Over the last two decades, researchers have become increasingly interested in the possible connection between vitamin D levels and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Multiple studies have identified a connection between geography and MS rates; people living in sunnier regions (and having higher vitamin D levels) have lower population rates of MS. Sun exposure is a key predictor of vitamin D levels, but intake through dietary supplements or fortified foods is also important.
Cleveland’s UV Index is typically quite low. For some health risks (like sunburn or skin cancer), a low UV Index is good news. But a low UV Index—especially during the winter—can make it tough to get enough sun exposure to maintain a minimal recommended vitamin D level in the body. Inadequate vitamin D levels and sun exposure may contribute not only to poor mood and weak bones, but also to your likelihood of developing MS.
In general, the relationship between geography, vitamin D, and MS is clearly visible when the statistics are graphically overlapped. How your personal risk may vary is a bit harder to predict, though. Taking steps to get healthy amounts of sun exposure—especially during the winter months when the sun is harder to come by—should be just one step in your MS prevention plan.
Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin D Intake
If you are at an elevated risk of MS due to family history or simply a lifetime at northern latitudes (Cleveland natives, listen up!), it is essential to up your intake of vitamin D. Sun exposure should not be your only hope for getting enough of this vital nutrient (although some sun is essential).
Vitamin D can be found naturally in the following food groups or products:
- Seafood, like swordfish, salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Cod liver oil
- Animal products, like beef liver and eggs—but you have to eat the yolk!
If you are vegan or you simply don’t typically include many of those foods in your diet, consider buying fortified foods and drinks. The following products are often supplemented with vitamin D, but check the label to be sure:
- Orange juice
- Dairy or dairy-substitute products, like milk, yogurt, margarine, and cheese
- Breakfast cereal
Despite sun exposure and a decent diet, some people still don’t get enough vitamin D (about 600 IU/day for men and women). If your levels are low, consider a dietary supplement in the form of a multivitamin or single-vitamin pill. They are available in delicious gummy form for those who despise horse pill doses.
Aim for at least 15 minutes of sun exposure each day to help your body absorb what it needs. Many people at Cleveland’s latitude may have trouble getting enough vitamin D from the sun alone. Individuals at even higher risk of inadequate sun exposure include:
- the elderly
- breastfed infants
- individuals wearing head scarves or hats during outdoor time
- people with dark skin
Remember to get a breath of fresh air during lunchtime (and to snack on salmon and fortified milk) to keep your vitamin D levels up this winter. You’ll be able to enjoy yourself with the knowledge that you’re keeping your bones and body healthy and potentially reducing your chances of developing MS.