A recent DNA study revealed that multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating autoimmune disease whose cause remains unknown, may stem from a lack of the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ or vitamin D. Scientists had been suspecting such scenario to be true for years, but they were unable to prove it.
During their research,study authors found that participants who displayed genetic features that exposed them to vitamin D deficiency were also more prone to develop multiple sclerosis later in life. MS is an autoimmune condition because the immune system attacks the nerves in the spine and brain.
Past studies had also suggested that there was a link between lack of vitamin D and multiple sclerosis as people who lacked the vitamin had a significant higher risk of developing the condition. But those studies were unable to find evidence that low vitamin D levels actually leads to MS.
Dr. Brent Richards, senior author of the recent study and researcher at McGill University in Canada, explained that the link found in previous studies couldn’t be causal because people who take vitamin D supplements usually get engaged in other healthy conducts which may be the real causes of their low risk of multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D, which the human body synthesizes after exposure to the sun, may also falsely lead to MS through a process of reverse causation. Dr. Richards argued that MS patients usually stay more indoors than healthy people do because of pain and thus the behavior leads to lower levels of the vitamin in their bodies.
So, study authors wanted to see if the link was real by looking for genetic evidence that lack of vitamin D indeed causes MS. For this goal, they sifted through genetic data on 34,000 patients some of whom had low vitamin levels and looked for four genetic markers that were triggered by vitamin D deficiency.
Next, researchers dug into genetic data on more than 14,000 MS patients and looked for the said four markers to find a genetic link between the disease and vitamin D levels.
In the end, the study revealed that patients who displayed one of the markers that showed they lacked vitamin D were also at a high risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Researchers explained that their findings cannot be biased because our lifestyle choices cannot affect whether we inherit the low vitamin D markers or not.
As a follow-up, scientists plan to learn whether the four genetic markers may boost risk of MS through a different process that has nothing to do with a vitamin deficiency.
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