Is low vitamin D a cause of multiple sclerosis?

 Mendelian randomization shows a causal effect of low vitamin D on multiple sclerosis risk

Rhead B, Bäärnhielm M, Gianfrancesco M, et al.

Neurol Genet 2016; 2:e97.



We sought to estimate the causal effect of low serum 25(OH)D on multiple sclerosis (MS) susceptibility that is not confounded by environmental or lifestyle factors or subject to reverse causality.


We conducted mendelian randomization (MR) analyses using an instrumental variable (IV) comprising 3 single nucleotide polymorphisms found to be associated with serum 25(OH)D levels at genome-wide significance. We analyzed the effect of the IV on MS risk and both age at onset and disease severity in 2 separate populations using logistic regression models that controlled for sex, year of birth, smoking, education, genetic ancestry, body mass index at age 18-20 years or in 20s, a weighted genetic risk score for 110 known MS-associated variants, and the presence of one or more HLA-DRB1*15:01 alleles.


Findings from MR analyses using the IV showed increasing levels of 25(OH)D are associated with a decreased risk of MS in both populations. In white, non-Hispanic members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California (1,056 MS cases and 9,015 controls), the odds ratio (OR) was 0.79 (p = 0.04, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.64-0.99). In members of a Swedish population from the Epidemiological Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis and Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis MS case-control studies (6,335 cases and 5,762 controls), the OR was 0.86 (p = 0.03, 95% CI: 0.76-0.98). A meta-analysis of the 2 populations gave a combined OR of 0.85 (p = 0.003, 95% CI: 0.76-0.94). No association was observed for age at onset or disease severity.


These results provide strong evidence that low serum 25(OH)D concentration is a cause of MS, independent of established risk factors.

You may also check:

Past environmental sun exposure and risk of multiple sclerosis: a role for the Cdx-2 vitamin D receptor variant in this interaction.

Dickinson JL, Perera DI, van der Mei AF, et al.

Mult Scler 2009; 15:563-570.

Neonatal vitamin D status and risk of multiple sclerosis: a population-based case-control study.

Nielsen NM, Munger KL, Koch-Henriksen N, et al.

Neurology 2017; 88:44-51.

These references are now included in the neurochecklist:

Multiple sclerosis (MS): risk factors and prognosis


Abstract link


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