Full-text evidence summary

Multiple sclerosisHow does vitamin D work?

  • Vitamin D may help in multiple sclerosis by moderating the body's immune response and by reducing the risk of Epstein Barr virus infection.
Vitamin D seems to reduce risk of MS by reducing the production and function of T helper cells (Th1), an important component of the body’s immune system, while increasing Th2 production1 2 3 4

Th1 generate proinflammatory cytokines, which attack various self-tissues in the body leading to autoimmunity.  Cytokines are small proteins that have an effect on cells. They include interleukins, lymphokines, tumor necrosis factor and the interferons which trigger inflammation and respond to infections. 

It is also likely that vitamin D reduces the risk of EBV infection through production of antimicrobial compounds5, as it does for type A influenza6.  There is good evidence that T regulatory cells are involved in both the innate and adaptive immune system including for EVB7 and that vitamin D affects T regulatory cell function8 4 9.

Genetic heritage seems to play a role in risk of MS10, and there appears to be an interaction between genetics and vitamin D11 12

Page last edited: 03 May 2011


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  8. Baeke, F. Takiishi, T. Korf, H. Gysemans, C. Mathieu, C. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2010 Aug; 10 (4): 482-96.
  9. Smolders, J. Menheere, P. Thewissen, M. Peelen, E. Tervaert, J. W. Hupperts, R. Damoiseaux, J. Regulatory T cell function correlates with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, but not with 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, parathyroid hormone and calcium levels in patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 Jul; 121 (1-2): 243-6.
  10. Goodin, D. S. The causal cascade to multiple sclerosis: a model for MS pathogenesis. PLoS One. 2009; 4 (2): e4565.
  11. Ramagopalan, S. V. Maugeri, N. J. Handunnetthi, L. Lincoln, M. R. Orton, S. M. Dyment, D. A. Deluca, G. C. Herrera, B. M. Chao, M. J. Sadovnick, A. D. Ebers, G. C. Knight, J. C. Expression of the multiple sclerosis-associated MHC class II Allele HLA-DRB1*1501 is regulated by vitamin D. PLoS Genet. 2009 Feb; 5 (2): e1000369.
  12. Handel, A. E. Handunnetthi, L. Giovannoni, G. Ebers, G. C. Ramagopalan, S. V. Genetic and environmental factors and the distribution of multiple sclerosis in Europe. Eur J Neurol. 2010 Sep; 17 (9): 1210-4.