|Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease of the central nervous system that runs a chronic course and disables young people. The disease is more prevalent in the geographic areas that are farthest from the equator.
No form of treatment is known to be effective in preventing MS or its disabling complications. A number of epidemiological studies have shown a protective effect of exposure to sunlight during early life and a recent longitudinal study confirmed that vitamin D supplementation reduced life-time prevalence of MS in women. Very little is known regarding the role of vitamin D on the developing brain but experimental data suggest that cerebral white matter is vitamin D responsive and oligodendrocytes in the brain and spinal cord and express vitamin D receptors. It is possible that differentiation and axonal adhesion of oligodendrocytes are influenced by vitamin D level during brain development and a relative lack of vitamin D may increase oligodendroglial apoptosis.
The age effect of migration on susceptibility to develop MS could be explained by a role of vitamin D on brain development. In areas of high MS prevalence, dietary supplementation of vitamin D in early life may reduce the incidence of MS. In addition, like folic acid, vitamin D supplementation should also be routinely recommended in pregnancy.
Prevention of MS by modifying an important environmental factor (sunlight exposure and vitamin D level) offers a practical and cost-effective way to reduce the burden of the disease in the future generations.