Auto Immune Diseases May Be Determined by Your Sun Exposure

Vitamin D solution book coverThis week I am continuing my coverage of “The Vitamin D Solution” by Dr. Michael Holick.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book was the one in which he discussed autoimmune diseases – especially multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which cells of the immune system attack the nerves, leading to loss of muscle coordination, weakness and even loss of sight.

MS generally develops in middle age and is much more prevalent in women than in men. There is also a genetic component to MS, with people of Scandinavian or Celtic
origin being more prone to developing MS.

But by far the strongest predictor of MS risk is sun exposure. People in North America or Europe are five times more likely to develop MS than people who live in
the tropics, Even in North America people living above the 37th parallel are twice as likely to develop MS as people who live below the 37th parallel.

And the most interesting part of it is that the risk of developing MS seems to be determined by your sun exposure at an early age. Once you’ve reached the age
of 15 you can move anywhere in the world and your risk of MS will not be altered. It has already been determined by your sun exposure before the age of 15.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune cells attacking  the pancreas and rendering it unable to make insulin. Once again sun exposure seems to play a significant
role. Northern Finland, for example, has the world’s highest incidence of type 1 diabetes. Since type 1 diabetes generally develops during childhood, the question of whether you could decrease the incidence of type 1 diabetes by getting more sun exposure after age 15 is a moot point.

The mechanism of this effect is not known, but it is known that the thymus plays an important role in destroying immune cells that could harm the body. This
function of the thymus is particularly important when we are young and recent research suggests that it could be regulated by vitamin D.

The evidence that vitamin D could prevent MS is indirect, but there is clinical evidence that vitamin D can prevent type 1 diabetes.

The Finnish government did a major study with 12,000 children in 1966 in which they gave half of them 2,000 IU of vitamin D/day during their first year of life and
the other half a placebo.

The children who received the vitamin D supplement during their first year of life were 80% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those who received the placebo. And when they did the comparison with a subgroup of children who were demonstrably D deficient (they developed symptoms of rickets), the vitamin D supplementation decreased the risk of developing type 1 diabetes by 2.4 fold (240%).

However, with both type 1 diabetes and MS it appears that the die is cast early in life. Dr. Holick and others have tried vitamin D therapy with patients that have already developed MS or type 1 diabetes without success.

So what is the bottom line?

If you have already developed MS or type 1 diabetes, there is no evidence that vitamin D supplementation can slow or reverse the disease (although it may reduce the
risk of osteoporosis and many other diseases).

However, one of the greatest gifts that you can give your children may be to make sure that they get adequate levels of vitamin D from birth through adolescence. And that is particularly important in light of studies showing that 50 – 70% of our children
may not be getting enough vitamin D.

To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney

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About the Author

Caroline Heinemann has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Concordia Teachers College in Seward Nebraska. She has coordinated a variety of educational programs in her local community and conducts regional business training events and teleconference training calls. She become personally interested in health when she experienced some personal health issues and found that alternative medicine has been the key to her health. She shares tips on staying healthy. She is a former and teacher and has owned her own health education business for the past 30 years

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