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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

New MS animal model study: UV more beneficial than vitamin D?

A recent animal study from the University of Wisconsin has given a new perspective on the role of vitamin D and sunlight in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Wang Y, Marling SJ, Mcknight SM, Danielson AL, Severson KS, Deluca HF. Suppression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by 300-315nm ultraviolet light. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2013;536(1):81-6.

It is well established that MS is more common further away from the equator in both hemispheres. This has generally been attributed to lack of vitamin D production due to lack of sunlight, but there is increasing awareness that sunlight itself may be positively affecting the immune system independent of vitamin D, in a way that may decrease the risk of MS.

In several recent studies, ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been found to suppress an animal model of MS, independent of vitamin D production. For instance, in some animal models, UV suppresses MS even in an animal state of vitamin D deficiency. And in further models, UV suppresses MS even when vitamin D receptors are removed from the animal.

In the present animal model study, the researchers wanted to see just which wavelength of UV radiation is responsible for the effect seen in the above-mentioned studies. UV radiation is classified by wavelength. Here are the wavelengths used in this study and some additional wavelengths:

  • UVC: 100-280 nm. This range is completely blocked by the ozone layer.
  • Broad band (BB) UVB: 280-320 nm. This range helps you produce vitamin D in the skin and also induces sunburn with overexposure.
  • Narrow band (NB) UVB: 300-315 nm. This range helps you produce vitamin D but doesn’t include some of the more harmful rays in the 280-300 nm range. Still, you can definitely burn with overexposure in this range.
  • Broad band (BB) UVA: 300-400 nm.
  • UVA-1: 340-400 nm.

Both forms of UVA penetrate deeply into the skin and cause the formation of free radicals. In small doses, these UV radiations safely and successfully treat inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema. UVA doesn’t help you produce vitamin D. You can also burn with UVA, although it isn’t as intense as UVB.

In this study, the researchers induced an MS-like state in mice and then divided them into groups based on type of UV exposure:

  • Placebo
  • BB UVB
  • NB UVB
  • BB UVA
  • UVA 1

The mice received UV exposures according to their group for seven days before and 30 days after the induction of neurological disease. Blood samples were taken to determine serum vitamin D and calcium levels. Only mice in the BB UVB group had a statistically significant increase in their vitamin D levels. None of the mice had a significant change in their serum calcium levels.

Neurological disease was significantly suppressed in the mice receiving the BB and NB UVB radiation, suggesting that UV light in the 300-315 nm wavelength range is largely responsible for the effect. This effect was dose-dependent, meaning the more UV exposure the mice received, the less neurological symptoms they had.

BB UVA had a mildly positive effect at a low dose and a moderate effect at a higher dose. UVA-1 radiation did not successfully treat the mice at any dose. The positive effects of the BB UVA are likely due to the overlap of this spectrum with the wavelengths in the NB UVB range.

The researchers concluded that UV radiation between 280 and 340 nm effectively treats an animal model of MS, with the “effectiveness…largely captured by a narrow band of UV light between 300 and 315 nm with a peak at 311 nm.” Since only the BB UVB group saw a significant increase in vitamin D levels, yet the NB UVB group also experienced an equal suppression of the MS-model, the researchers concluded that the 300 to 315 nm range of UV light suppressed the MS-model independent of vitamin D. They note, “These findings force a reexamination of the idea that vitamin D production mediates the relationship between UV light and MS.”

An additional benefit of using NB UVB light is that it is less likely to cause a sunburn than BB UVB exposure. The researchers hypothesized that UV radiation might be converting some “unknown compound” in the skin into a substance that protects against MS, or that the light is affecting the immune system in some other positive way. They concluded that it is reasonable to assume that humans are positively affected in a manner similar to the mice, and urged for trials of NB UVB radiation in people with MS.

While the majority of the vitamin D community believes it is wise to maintain a vitamin D level between 40 and 60 ng/mL, research is increasingly finding benefits to UV light exposure above and beyond vitamin D production. Our ancestors evolved in sun-drenched, equatorial Africa. Safe and sensible sun exposure is therefore likely a critical component of our overall health and well-being.

  About: Rebecca Oshiro

Rebecca has a master of science degree in nutrition from Bastyr University where she conducted a university-funded study on vitamin D and athletic performance. She has a certificate in applied behavior analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology, and her passion is using behavioral technologies to assist others in making meaningful changes in their lives.

12 Responses to New MS animal model study: UV more beneficial than vitamin D?

  1. Rita and Misty says:

    Rebecca~~it always concerns me that many in the vitamin D community recommend a 25(OH)D level between 40 and 60 ng/ml. If I followed this recommendation, I would STILL be ILL.

    My menses did not return until my 25(OH)D level was raised to around 74 ng/ml.

    And when my level drops, my menses cease.

    I am always (always) grateful to have discovered the Vitamin D Council, and I choose to follow the Vitamin D Council’s recommendation of an optimal 25(OH)D level as being defined as between 50 ng/ml and 80 ng/ml. This is why I choose to financially support the Vitamin D Council. Thank goodness for the sage thinking of Dr. John Cannell.

    Let’s remember that those living in current hunter/gatherer societies have a vitamin D blood serum level of between 46 ng/ml and 104 ng/ml.

    Why would those of us living in the concrete jungle require a lesser level?

    Be well,

  2. Rebecca Oshiro says:

    Rita, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I can not let my vitamin D level fall below 50 ng/mL or I feel it, so I personally shoot for a higher number to ensure I function well in gloomy Seattle! It is interesting to note that in the hunter-gatherer societies where vitamin D has been measured, the population average in non-pregnant individuals is 46.1 ng/mL with a range between 23 ng/mL and 68.5 ng/mL. In pregnant women, this number ranges from 18 ng/mL all the way up to 105 ng/mL! I would love to know more about the contributing factors to individual serum levels. Why, under ostensibly similar conditions, could any two given people have such dramatically differing levels? From supplementing my family, friends, and clients with vitamin D, the feedback I have gotten ranges from “This changed my life” to “Meh, I could take it or leave it.” For reasons yet unknown, some people function fine with a lower level while many others must be in the mid to high normal range to improve their health. I eagerly await research that will help us understand why this is.

  3. Rita and Misty says:

    Greetings Rebecca, thank you for your reply!

    Certainly good health is a multifaceted thing: Optimal 25(OH)D level is only one factor contributing to good health, imo. The D cofactors, clean diet, sufficient exercise and sleep, and one’s ability to handle stress all impact health, I do think.

    Regarding those who “can take D or leave D….” I have this to say:

    Perhaps some of us are better “in tune” with our bodies, and others might need to be hit with an asteroid prior to getting a clue. :)

    Be well,

  4. Ian says:

    I suspect there are many answers to this, genetic/epigenetic, environmental and behavioural.

    In many cases of disease the genes involved may be regulated by vitamin D. However, as we know these diseases can be initiated or more severe when certain polymorphisms of those genes are present. If you have one of those polymorphisms which is a risk factor for the disease then low vitamin D will be serious and consequently increase risk or severity.

    However if you do not have risk factor polymorphisms then the low vitamin D will be less of a risk factor.

    Even aside from “diseases” individual “normal” range traits which are controlled by DNA transcription might account for some of the variations in vitamin D’s impact.

    Of course, as alluded to, environment, including diet will be a factor in the above and in the levels of 25(OH)D and 1,25(OH)2D. Of note are magnesium and vitamin A. Also the xenobiotic intake will be a factor which again we know little about, for example: phthalates and various agricultural toxins.

    In addition to this are hidden pathologies in subjects/patients who are included in studies which are not tested for and will have an impact on the results, particularly mitochondrial function and immune system irregularities, of which we know little about, some interleukins, TNF-alpha, IFN-gamma and NFkappa-b to name a few.

    The other factor is: Do people do as you recommend? and do they tell you?
    I have recommended vitamin D (along with its co-factors) and I know some do take all, as recommended but I also know of some who are taking only the vitamin D and some who are taking the vitamin D in line with the official position ie. 800iu to 1000iu only. I know they listen to me but go away and do what the Health authority advises (for fear of toxicity I suppose, after all, I am not an “expert”).

    Here is another example that muddies the water. Recently I spoke with two people who have MS (one a distant family member). These two people are included in the large national study on MS and vitamin D. Which is conducted as an RCT. Both of these people are taking vitamin D. Now how can you conduct a reliable RCT when subjects are taking the active ingredient themselves. They could be in a placebo group. I did not ask if they had informed the experimenters.

  5. Rebecca Oshiro says:

    Ian, thank you for the critical insight. I learn so much from the members. Rita, you made me smile :-D.

  6. togeorge41934@hotmail.com says:

    I assume that the UV radiation I get from a low-pressure tanning bed is BB UVB. Is this true? As Professor Ott (Ott light) observed, UV entering the eye seems to have an effect on the immune system. Has this been checked out in some way? I assume that the mice in the above study received some of the UV through their eyes.

    • Brant Cebulla says:

      togeorge, low pressure tanning bed is both UVB and UVA. Probably something like 300-400 nm, probably with a UVB intensity/percentage similar to sun exposure.

      Can’t comment on UV effect when entering through eyes, perhaps someone else will have a thought.


  7. David Arcangel says:

    Hi Rita and Rebecca,

    Interesting article and comments. A couple of questions come to mind. Rita, in your case you say that your menses did not return until your 25(OH)D levels returned to 74 ng/ml. If the body begins to store 25(OH)D at around 40 ng/ml than anything above 40 is not being used by the body at that moment, unless you are getting part of the Vit. D through sun exposure. If you are getting UV radiation maybe that is helping the menses.

  8. Rita and Misty says:

    Hi David,

    For years (and years), I supplemented with 6,000 iu D3 daily. But, I never had my 25(OH)D tested until age 40, when my menses ceased. I had a somewhat savvy doctor at that time, and she did consider vitamin D deficiency. My level came back at 32 ng/ml, and she was thrilled–she said she rarely saw women with such a good level. She termed my early menopause as idiopathic and placed me on estrogen, testosterone and progesterone therapy. I got plump and grumpy. I looked at least 10 years older than my actual age. I trudged along like this for 6 years.

    At age 46 I discovered the VDC. To make a very long story short, I increased my vitamin D3 supplementation, and around level 74 ng/ml my menses returned.

    I do get tons of sun in the summer, but not in the winter. I live in central Connecticut.

    BTW–I have a history of suffering from terrible (terrible) PMS. Since age 11, the week prior to my menstrual cycle has been emotionally painful for me and for my loved ones. Back in February of this year, I decided to supplement with 50,000 iu D3 daily during “hell week.” Well, now I no longer suffer from ANY PMS at all.

    Seriously. Honestly. I wish someone would study ME.

    In July I tested with a very high 25(OH)D level: it was 166 ng/ml. I immediately stopped supplementation, and within 3 weeks I started to have cycle issues and hot flashes. I resumed supplementation, and my hormonal issues disappeared.

    FYI, I am heading towards 49, and I still ovulate (most months).

    Be well,

  9. PeterVermont says:

    @Rita glad that you are having success. Just wanted to suggest that you should definitely consider supplementing with vitamin K2 as it makes sure the increased calcium your body is absorbing is handled properly by your body. See: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987706007171

    Regarding the main article: my understanding is that vitamin D3 is only one of multiple molecules that are made in the sun with UVB light and that the function of many of these is not known. It is not at all surprising that some of these other molecules, created by the body, are biologically active.

  10. Rita and Misty says:

    @Peter~~Thank you very much for your reply.

    I most certainly take vitamin K..as well as Magnesium, Boron (highly underrated imo), and Zinc. I also take Iodine and Selenium, Vitamin C, a good Multi-B, melatonin at night, and on occasion a natural, mixed Vitamin E.

    Clean diet, tons of exercise and good sleeping patterns round out my protocol. I will also take herbs as tonics….

    And YES, I love my sunshine… Sunshine is awesome…and helps with serotonin and melatonin levels…

    Be well,

  11. wraywhyte says:

    I found this phrase fascinating… “The researchers hypothesized that UV radiation might be converting some “unknown compound” in the skin into a substance that protects against MS.” Or as the paper put it….”The results demonstrate that NB-UVB (300-315nm) is largely responsible for light-induced suppression of EAE and its effect is not via production of vitamin D.” It seems probable that the ‘unknown compound’ is nitric oxide, see here, here and here. This, like vitamin D, is made in the skin by the action of sunlight. It’s becoming increasingly obvious from studies on NO that we are all deficient in it. It can be made endogenously by the break down of arginine by the enzyme nitric oxide synthase. But it appears sunlight could be our major source. Wray