Adult and pediatric multiple sclerosis may have similar risk factors.
A majority of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, but approximately 5% of patients experience symptoms younger than age 18. Although the cause of pediatric MS is unknown, scientists have wondered if it has the same trigger as adult-onset disease.
A strong association between vitamin D deficiency and adult MS has been found, but few studies have explored whether this remains true in pediatric patients. Multiple studies have found that many American children have low levels of vitamin D, while others studies have linked pediatric MS with obesity, infection with Epstein-Barr virus, and cigarette smoke.
In a new study published by Neurology, the authors explored what factors contribute to the onset of pediatric MS.
Included in the study were blood samples from non-Hispanic white pediatric patients with MS and 16,251 matched healthy control patients.
The authors created genetic risk scores for patients using 3 genetic variations linked to vitamin D in the blood and 97 variations linked to excess body weight. The scores were compared between patients with and without MS to determine potential risk factors in pediatric MS.
The investigators took sex, genetic ancestry, and other MS risk factors into account and discovered that excess weight and low levels of vitamin D greatly increased the risk of developing MS during childhood. These findings were more pronounced among children than adults, according to the study.
Previous studies suggest that MS risk may be increased in overweight individuals due to lower levels of vitamin D. The new study found that both obesity and vitamin D levels independently influence the risk of MS.
These findings add to the growing evidence of factors that play a role in the risk of pediatric-onset MS. The new study confirms that that both low vitamin D levels and obesity are risk factors for MS, and subsequently have the potential to prevent MS in children and adults, according to the study.
Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body through exposure to sunlight, but can also be consumed through food and supplements. This vitamin is necessary for various body processes, including cell growth, immune function, and inflammation reduction. It is well-known that obesity can have serious and harmful effects on the body, especially during childhood.
These findings suggest that children may benefit from physical activity outdoors, as it would increase vitamin D levels and ward off obesity; however, sunscreen and protective clothing should be worn to stay sun safe.