Got milk? Vitamin D, a key player in multiple sclerosis

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.

Vitamin D can be found in dairy, fatty fish, and supplements. Exposure to sunlight also produces this helpful vitamin.

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.

Normal and damaged myelin in neurons.

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.


Published by

Kelly Lohr

Kelly is a senior neuroscience major from Norvelt, PA. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in neuroscience after graduation.

11 thoughts on “Got milk? Vitamin D, a key player in multiple sclerosis”

  1. This is so interesting! I would have never thought there was a connection between vitamin d and myelin. I knew that vitamin d was put into milk to aid in calcium absorption but do you think there could be any connection to calcium and MS?

  2. Excellent article. As I have been doing research, I came across some interesting information about nutrition and natural ways just like this of helping to not only manage MS but to actually reverse it. It’s pretty awesome. Just think, if Vitamin D can make such a difference, what would happen if we balance out our whole system. Why would we think that nutrition can only have an impact on MS during the fetal stage?

  3. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. Deficiencies are often detected in women after menopause. Studies have found out the connection between a deficiency in vitamin d and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. What an amazing nutrient, which some scientists even label as a hormone.

  4. I am been using cod liver oil in the winter months to ensure my family gets enough vitamin D. My family doctor even started testing for level of this in my yearly medical exam. The medical community is finally giving this nutrient the respect it deserves.

  5. Vitamin D deficiency is known to have a bad effect on people with MS. It has also been found that a healthy dose of vitamin D administered to children while they grow up reduces their chances of developing multiple sclerosis later in their lives.

    The blog post was very interesting to read. Thank you for a very insightful information!

  6. Vitamin D is so essential to the body for a wide spectrum of disorders, not just MS. Our whole family started supplementing with Vitamin D, especially during the flu season, and we have been able stay healthier and reduce the number of wintertime colds.

  7. Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog
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  8. more and more we are finding out how important Vitamin D is.. which is actually more a hormone than vitamin. The absorption benefit with calcium is also good for the teeth!

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