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Vitamin D-which we get from sunlight, milk, and eggs-might lower the risk for developing multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from more than seven million members of the U.S. military, and found a 62 percent lower incidence of MS in white soldiers younger than 20 who had the highest levels of vitamin D.
Lead researcher Alberto Ascherio, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard University's School of Public Health, says the effect was not seen in Hispanics and African-Americans, but he notes that their numbers were fewer in the sample and their darker skin pigmentation potentially acts as a sunscreen.
Raising vitamin D levels with supplements before adulthood might be particularly important, according to Dr. Ascherio. If the findings can be confirmed in other large studies, it suggests that many cases of MS might be prevented, he adds.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently recommends 400 International Units of vitamin D each day, far too little to achieve the protective levels in the study. Higher doses of vitamin D can cause toxicity and kidney stones. Research suggests that 1000 to 2000 units can be safely taken each day, Dr. Ascherio notes, and the FDA is considering doubling the current recommended daily allowance to 800 units.