Can UVB Rays Reduce the Risk of MS?
Posted on April 27, 2018
Multiple sclerosis researchers from Harvard University say that MS patients may not only benefit from vitamin D, but they could also get help from the sun’s UVB rays.
Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating autoimmune disease that develops when the myelin sheaths that cover the nerve endings in the brain and spinal cord become damaged. When this occurs, the nerves of the brain and spinal cord cannot function properly to control the muscles and systems of the body.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include pain, vision loss, fatigue, impaired coordination and loss of control over muscles. The severity of the condition and symptoms vary from one individual to another.
“Some people living with MS may be without symptoms, while others can have severe chronic symptoms that never go away,” said Dr. Joel Singer.
Singer is a New York physician who treats patients living with multiple sclerosis.
The premise of UVB rays being beneficial may seem odd, especially due to the ever-present warnings from the medical community regarding the dangers of UVB rays and their potential to cause skin cancer.
Harvard’s Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health mapped sun exposure over the life of multiple sclerosis patients by using information collected the Nurses’ Health Study cohort, a study designed to investigate health risk factors and chronic illness in women. The Nurses’ Health Study is one of the largest of its kind and has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1976.
Their research analyzed the health records of 3,226 people with multiple sclerosis. The individuals were then geocoded and their information was compared and measured against data from NASA about UVB radiation.
Their analysis found that individuals living in areas with high levels of UVB rays had a 45 percent lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis. The study also connected areas with high sun exposure in the summer with a reduced risk of developing the condition.
Moreover, the researchers found that the participants did not have to expose a lot of their skin to receive the benefits of the UVB rays – they just had to spend time in the sunlight.
Researchers already know that sun exposure induces the body to produce vitamin D, but they are trying to understand how the UVB rays might lower the risk of developing MS. One theory is that the sun’s rays may help regulate the immune system.
“MS is an autoimmune condition, which means the immune system malfunctions and sees the myelin sheath that protects nerve endings as a threat. Regulating the immune system would reduce these attacks and possibly improve symptoms,” Singer said.
The Harvard team is not alone in its research; another project known as the Sunshine Study also examined the impact of sun exposure on individuals living with MS.
The Sunshine Study tested the levels of vitamin D in participants living in Southern California. The project divided the participants into cases and control groups based on race.
The results of the Sunshine Study showed that more exposure to the sun over an individual’s lifetime could mean a reduction in the chance of developing MS regardless of the person’s race or ethnicity.
The benefits shown in these studies do not mean MS patients should lay out and bask in the sun’s rays. The researchers say that MS patients can benefit from the sun by participating in outdoor activities such as walking and can still see benefits wearing sunscreen.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, there are more than 400,000 people in the United States living with MS, with an estimated 2.5 million people living with the condition around the world. Rates of MS cases are higher farther from the equator, which helps to support the theory of the benefits of UVB rays in reducing MS.
Healthline. How Sunshine Helps People with Multiple Sclerosis. 14 April 2018.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Multiple Sclerosis by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You. 24 March 2015.