Close-up of a man's eye and brow
September 27, 2012 | News | MS Treatments

Vitamin D may improve eye symptoms

Vitamin D supplements may help to improve eye symptoms (optic neuritis) in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the preliminary results of a Canadian study presented at the 2012 American Academy of Neurology annual meeting (Burton and colleagues. Abstract P05.102).

Optic neuritis is swelling and inflammation of the optic nerve that commonly occurs in MS. Researchers at the University of Calgary plan to examine whether a person’s vitamin D level is associated with the degree of nerve swelling. Thus far, 7 of a planned 50 people have started the study.

According to the preliminary results, lower vitamin D levels do appear to be associated with more swelling of the optic nerve. Among those with the lowest levels of vitamin D, the retinal layer was substantially thicker, indicating more inflammation and swelling. The retinal layer was thicker even in the unaffected eye compared to the retinas of people with adequate vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because it is created in the skin during sun exposure. However, vitamin D levels are often low because of inadequate sun exposure and/or the use of sun blocks. Vitamin D insufficiency is common in northern countries (because of the angle of the sun). In fact, studies have shown that people in Canada cannot get an adequate amount of vitamin D from sun exposure during the winter months.

In the Calgary study, 59% of people had insufficient levels of vitamin D.

While these are early results, this study has broader implications. The optic nerve is part of the central nervous system (rather than being a peripheral nerve), so these findings may have a bearing on the effects of vitamin D throughout the CNS. The hope is that ensuring adequate vitamin D levels (from sunlight or supplements) may reduce the inflammation and nerve damage seen in MS.

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