Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a baffling and brutal autoimmune disorder. It’s a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
And, of course, there’s a great deal of misunderstanding about not only what causes the disorder…but also how to treat it.
Fortunately, a brand-new study published in the prestigious journal Neurology looked at an environmental factor that may be linked to more severe symptoms…with more rapid decline.
Let me explain…
Where you live matters…even in childhood!
We already know that MS is far more common among people who live in places farther away from the equator—where they get less exposure to strong ultra-violet B (UVB) rays.
And now, researchers revealed that people with MS living in higher latitudes (even in childhood) experience worsened symptoms and greater decline.
For this new observational study, researchers analyzed data on 40,000 people diagnosed with MS.
First, they noted where the patients lived at ages six and 18 years. Then, they estimated daily UVB exposure using those latitudes.
Next, they noted the onset and severity of symptoms using a standardized scoring system.
Overall, they found a strong link between higher disability scores and lower cumulative exposure to UVB rays.
Specifically, people who lived at latitudes higher than 40 degrees (or anywhere north of Philadelphia, for example) had more severe symptoms and greater disability. They also declined more rapidly.
“People living in Scandinavia, for instance, are more likely to experience faster decline in their neurological function than living in the Mediterranean, after we factor in differences in disease prevalence and access to therapy. This association seems to be established during the early years of life,” said study author Dr. Tomas Kalincik in an interview.
Sun exposure plays a protective role
With research like this, it boggles the mind that dermatologists still blindly urge everyone (especially children) to avoid the sun…or to slather on toxic sunscreen.
When, clearly, as this study and others show, sun exposure over your lifetime—and starting in childhood—plays a protective role against MS. (It probably even plays a protective role against other autoimmune disorders, too, as I’ll explain tomorrow.)
In fact, childhood may be the critical period where you begin to gain protection from the sun’s rays!
In the end, when it comes to getting healthy sun exposure, here’s my advice for everyone…and especially anyone with an MS diagnosis:
- You may not be ready to move to a sunny state like Florida or Arizona, but everyone can aim to spend 15 to 20 minutes each day in the sun without sunscreen. (Soaking up the sun between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from April to October, will allow your skin to start producing its own vitamin D in most parts of the world.)
- Focus on exposing larger areas of skin—such as the skin on your legs, arms, and even torso—to the sun, to gain potential protection against disease. (In Europe, women get sun directly on their exposed breasts. And there’s some suggestion that this practice is particularly protective against breast cancer.)
Of course, sun exposure is just one way to up your protective vitamin D levels. You can also obtain D from some food sources, such as fatty fish. Or from a high-quality supplement. (I recommend taking 250 mcg [10,000 IU] of vitamin D daily.)
Then, to ensure you maintain optimal levels, ask your doctor for a 25(OH)D blood test once toward the end of winter and again toward the end of summer. Ideally, you want your levels to fall between 50 ng/mL and 75 ng/mL.
To learn more about what sunshine can do for your health—and how to safely soak up some rays—check out the June 2022 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Sunburn, insects, and sweat hijacking your summer fun?”). Not yet a subscriber? Click here to become one!
P.S. Don’t forget to tune back into tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch for a new report on how supplementing with vitamin D can not only ward off MS…but other hard-to-treat autoimmune disorders, too!
“Association of latitude and exposure to ultraviolet B radiation with severity of multiple sclerosis.” Neurology, 6/14/22; 98(24). doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000200545
“More sever multiple sclerosis seen further north.” MedPage Today, 4/18/22. (medpagetoday.com/neurology/multiplesclerosis/98265)