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Low vitamin D levels seen as multiple sclerosis risk for African-Americans, UCSF study finds
Date:5/27/2011

te nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the sheaths can short circuit signals traveling along the nerve fibers, disrupting the normal flow of communication from the brain and causing a range of symptoms including weakness, sensory disturbance, fatigue, visual impairments and loss of coordination.

Researchers at the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center have been investigating for a number of years how genetics and environmental triggers, like low vitamin D levels, can make people susceptible to multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin D is produced in the body in response to direct exposure to sunlight, and anything that limits this exposure also limits the amount of vitamin D a person produces.

How exactly low vitamin D levels contribute to causing multiple sclerosis is not clear, according to Green. Vitamin D may play a protective role for nerve cells or it may modulate the action of immune cells, preventing them from attacking the myelin around nerves. Nor is it clear what this observation means in terms of treatment, but ongoing clinical trials at UCSF led by neurologist Ellen Mowry, MD, are investigating whether taking vitamin D supplements impacts the course of the disease.

Previous studies have shown a dramatic link between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis but only in Caucasian populations. Caucasians who live in tropical or subtropical climates are less likely to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis than those who live in temperate climates. The prevalence of the disease in North Dakota, for instance, is approximately twice that in Florida.

These same questions have been harder to assess in African American populations, however, because the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is extremely high among all African Americans.

For the last 10 years, Cree and colleagues at UCSF have created a nationwide network of U.S. clinics that treat large numbers of African Americans with the disease. It includes ro
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Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
jason.bardi@ucsf.edu
415-502-6397
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert  

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