By Kelly Lohr
Drinking milk may do a lot more than just strengthen our bones. A study out of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston recently suggested drinking milk during pregnancy may markedly reduce the chance of the child developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life.
Lead by Fariba Mirzaei, MD, the study examined over 35,000 female nurses whose mothers had completed questionnaires recording their diets during their pregnancies with their now-grown daughters. The work occurred over a 16-year period, during which 199 women developed MS.
MS is a degenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The symptoms vary, ranging from numbness in the arms and legs to paralysis and loss of vision. Unfortunately for its sufferers, the progress and severity of MS are often unpredictable. The neurons in our body are partially covered in a fatty substance called myelin in order to insulates the cells and to allow them to transmit signals quickly. If the myelin is damaged, these signals can be delayed. MS results in the destruction of this insulating myelin in the CNS. This breakdown is thought to be caused by the body’s immune system attacking the myelin sheath.
The researchers lead by Dr. Mirzaei found that the risk of MS was lower in women whose mothers had high milk or vitamin D diets during pregnancy. Women whose mothers drank four glasses of milk per day had a 56% less chance of developing MS than those whose mothers drank less than three glasses per month. In general, women in the top 20% of vitamin D intake had a 45% less chance of having a child develop MS than those in the bottom 20% of vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D can come in many forms including fatty fish, milk and dairy products, and exposure to sunlight. Supplements could also be used to counter vitamin deficits in the diet. This study serves as evidence of a growing role for vitamin D in the pathology of MS. Prevention may play an important part in the disease, perhaps starting as early as pregnancy.