In the first major study exploring the connection between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis in African Americans, a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco has discovered that vitamin D levels in the blood are lower in African Americans who have the disease, compared to African Americans who do not. “It seems relatively clear,” said Dr. Ari Green, who is the assistant director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center, director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center and the senior author on the study. “Low vitamin D levels are a risk factor for developing multiple sclerosis.” Published online on May 24, 2011, in the journal Neurology, the results of the study are consistent with observations in Caucasian populations that link low vitamin D levels to having multiple sclerosis. However, the research could not explain why multiple sclerosis tends to be more severe in African Americans even though the disease is less common than in Caucasian populations. Earlier work by the same UCSF team established that African Americans tend to become disabled faster with multiple sclerosis, more frequently having to rely on canes and wheel chairs. “If we can understand why, we may be able to improve treatment for those patients,” said neurologist Dr. Bruce Cree, another author of the paper and one of the primary investigators. Vitamin D levels alone could not account for this apparent difference in severity, the study found. “There are likely other factors that drive the severity of the disease including genes and other environmental factors such as smoking,” said Dr, Jeffrey Gelfand, the first author on the study. Work is now underway to determine how genetic differences may affect the severity of multiple sclerosis.
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