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How sunshine could help prevent multiple sclerosis

A new study says that exposure to UV rays can help protect against auto-immune disease.

Getting in a daily dose of sunlight has multiple benefits
Getting in a daily dose of sunlight has multiple benefits (Unsplash)

We all know how important Vitamin D is for your bones, teeth, muscles and moods. However, here is another reason to go for that walk in the sun regularly--a regular dose of UV rays could protect you from autoimmune disease. 

A new study, the findings of which were published in the online issue of Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology journal, seems to imply as much. ANI reported that the study followed previous work by other researchers that have demonstrated an association between increased ultraviolet exposure in childhood and lower odds of adult multiple sclerosis (MS). "The study included 332 participants aged between 3 to 22, who had had MS for an average of seven months. Their locations and amount of sun exposure were matched by age and sex to 534 participants without MS, the researchers reported in their study," stated ANI. 

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Nineteen per cent of participants with MS or their parents stated that they spent less than 30 minutes daily outdoors during the previous summer, compared to 6 per cent of those who did not have MS. When the researchers adjusted for MS risks, like smoking and female sex, they found that the participants who spent an average of 30 minutes to one hour outdoors daily had a 52 per cent lower chance of MS, compared to those who spent an average of fewer than 30 minutes outdoors daily, reported ANI. 

"Sun exposure is known to boost vitamin D levels," said co-senior author Emmanuelle Waubant, MD, PhD, professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and of the Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

"It also stimulates immune cells in the skin that have a protective role in diseases such as MS. Vitamin D may also change the biological function of the immune cells and, as such, play a role in protecting against autoimmune diseases," added Waubant.

While MS usually strikes adults between the ages of 20 to 50, some 3 to 5 per cent of the approximately one million patients in the United States with the condition begin experiencing symptoms in childhood. "Pediatric-onset MS is initially highly inflammatory, but takes longer than adults to advance, with symptoms of secondary progression, such as moderate to severe weakness, poor coordination and bowel and bladder control, occurring on average 28 years after disease onset, according to experts. However, these disability landmarks are reached approximately ten years earlier than in adult MS," said ANI.

Waubant, who is also the director of the UCSF Regional Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center, added that the use of sunscreen does not appear to lessen the therapeutic effects of sunlight in warding off MS noted. However, she also added that clinical trials are needed to determine if "increasing sun exposure or vitamin D supplementation can prevent the development of MS or alter disease course post-diagnosis" 

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However, she does suggest that getting regular time in the sun, especially during summer, using sun protection as needed, especially for first degree relatives of MS patients, maybe a practical intervention to reduce the incidence of MS, reported ANI.


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