High Dose Vitamin D May Benefit Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Vitamin D3 found to aid immune response regulation among patients with MS.

For patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), taking vitamin D may prove effective in regulating the immune response in the body, a recent study suggests.

The pilot study, conducted by physicians from Johns Hopkins and posted online in Neurology, found that a high dose of vitamin D3 may improve the regulation of hyperactive immune responses.

"These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe, and convenient treatment for people with MS," said study author Peter Calabresi, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center. "More research is needed to confirm these findings with larger groups of people and to help us understand the mechanisms for these effects, but the results are promising."

The study noted that low vitamin D levels in the blood are associated with an increased risk of developing MS. Furthermore, low levels of vitamin D can increase the likelihood of increased disease activity.

The study randomized 40 patients with relapsing-remitting MS to receive either a daily dose of 10,400 international units or 800 international units of vitamin D3 supplements for 6 months. The recommended daily dose of vitamin D3 is currently 600 international units.

Individuals who had a severe vitamin D deficiency were excluded from the study.

Patients were evaluated via blood tests at the beginning of the study, at 3 months, and at 6 months, to measure vitamin D levels in the blood and the response of T cells.

The researchers offered a suggested target dose range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), as work continues to determine the optimal level of vitamin D in the blood for MS patients.

Individuals in the high dose vitamin D group were able to reach levels within the proposed target, compared with the low dose group who did not reach the target level range.

Among both treatment groups, the side effects were minor and comparable between the 2 dose amounts. Patients in the high dose group experienced a decrease in the percentage of IL-17+CD4+ and CD161+CD4+ cells, which are inflammatory T cells associated with MS severity.

The researchers found that once vitamin D levels in the blood over base line exceeded 18 ng/ml, every additional 5 ng/ml jump in vitamin D correlated with a 1% drop in the percentage of inflammatory T cells in the blood. Patients in the low dose group did not show a significant change in the percentages of T cell subsets.

"We hope that these changes in inflammatory T cell responses translate to a reduced severity of disease," Dr. Calabresi said. "Other clinical trials are underway to determine if that is the case."