We've written a lot lately about vitamin D and African-Americans over the past few months, especially since so many of us are deficient given our darker skin (which doesn't absorb the sunlight that is packed with vitamin D) and the fact that we consume less dairy (a common source of the vitamin.) Low vitamin D levels have been linked to heart disease, asthma, flu, bacterial vaginosis, osteoporosis and glucose intolerance. It's also believed that low vitamin D levels play a role in why we develop more prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer and get more aggressive forms of those cancers.
But that isn't all.
A recent study may have found a link between low levels of vitamin D and multiple sclerosis (MS) in African-Americans. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that African-Americans with multiple sclerosis are more likely to have vitamin D than African-Americans who don't have the disease.
"We have known that vitamin D levels are associated with MS and that African-Americans are at increased risk for having low vitamin D levels, but little research has been done to look at vitamin D levels in African-Americans with MS," said Ari J. Green, MD the lead researcher for the study.
The study involved 339 people with MS and 342 people who did not have the disease. Researchers analyzed the blood vitamin D levels and the severity of the disease in each participant. Vitamin D deficiency was found in 77 percent of the people with MS, compared to 71 percent of those without the disease. The people with MS were also exposed to a lower monthly UV index (average of 3.8) than those without MS (average of 4.8).
Researchers hope that these findings will spark more conversations between Black patients and their health care providers about how much UV exposure is needed, the importance of getting tested for vitamin D levels and whether supplements would be a good choice.
MS is not as common in African-Americans as it is in whites, but when we do develop the disease, it's much more severe. And that can be devastating given how MS impacts the body.
MS is a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Basically the immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers your nerves, which ends us interfering with the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. This may result in the deterioration of the nerves themselves, which is not reversible.
Some signs and symptoms of MS are:
—Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which typically occurs on one side of your body at a time or the bottom half of your body
—Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
—Double vision or blurring of vision
—Tingling or pain in parts of your body
—Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain head movements
—Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
MS is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age. And while there is treatment for MS, the disease has no cure.
Learn more about MS here.
(Photo: The Plain Dealer/Landov)