Vitamin D: Updated Questions & Answers
It seems like you can’t pick up a publication these days without reading about how many of us seem to have low levels of Vitamin D. Recent studies have shown that 30-60% of us are at risk of low Vitamin D levels. Here are a few common questions that you may have about Vitamin D:
What are the causes of low Vitamin D levels?
The causes are not known, but may be related to:
- The use of sunscreen
- Skin pigmentation
- Medications, such as steroids and seizure medications
- Other conditions, such as osteoporosis/osteopenia
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D functions like a hormone in the body. It can affect (1) immune activity and (2) healthy absorption of calcium and phosphorous. There are even receptors for Vitamin D in the brain. Vitamin D supplementation may also have benefits for:
- Autoimmune disease
- Cardiovascular health
- Certain cancers
- Lung disease
- Psychiatric disease
Studies are also conflicting about the potential increased risk for some cancers and mortality levels with very high levels.
Does Vitamin D play a role in MS?
The optimal safe levels in various health conditions, including multiple sclerosis, have not been well established. However, lower levels of Vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of MS.
Why? Experts have long discussed the environmental phenomenon of increased MS occurrence in areas further from the equator, indicating decreased UV rays may increase the risk for MS.
If you have MS, lower levels of Vitamin D have been associated with:
- An increased risk of relapse
- New or active MRI lesions
- Increased disability
- Loss of grey matter in the brain
- Decreased quality of life
How do you get Vitamin D?
The best form of Vitamin D is sunshine. People with lighter skin absorb it more efficiently. Most people are taught to use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, thus preventing the absorption of Vitamin D. This may lead to lower levels.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is better absorbed than Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).
How do you know what the best dose is for you?
Many healthcare providers are now checking their patients for Vitamin D levels. The level that should be checked is a Vitamin D 25(OH). Because we do not know the optimal level of Vitamin D to advise, it is safest to recommend a personalized dose after testing, with the guidance of your health care provider.
Initiating the Vitamin D conversation is also a great time to discuss bone health and calcium supplementation with your healthcare provider. It is not recommended to take calcium or Vitamin D supplements without testing and guidance.
Keep in mind that optimizing your Vitamin D level is just one part of living a healthy life with MS! Start a conversation with your healthcare provider today to learn the best approach for you.