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Vitamin D Deficiency and Autoimmune Diseases

January 28, 2010 5 comments

Research has indicated vitamin D deficiency has potential adverse effects on neurocognitive health and subcortical function.  I have found a lot of data linking deficient vitamin D levels to patients with autoimmune diseases.  Although I could find almost no reputable information linking it to HE, the statistics from the HELPS forum were good enough for me to make a reasonable connection. 

I sent out an email to the HELPS forum requesting what vitamin deficiencies we have.  Of the 8 people who responded (including myself), 7 reported vitamin D deficiency.  The 8th person reported multiple deficiencies, but did not explicitly report vitamin D deficiency.  There are also other vitamin deficiencies noted in the below table.

Vitamin D 

Iron 

B12 

Other 

I found many case studies linking vitamin D deficiency to autoimmune diseases such as MS, Grave’s Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, arthritis and diabetes.  First, I’ll start with the case studies on vitamin D deficiency with cognitive impairment.  This seems like it could be related to HE. 

  • Vitamin D Impact on Cognitive Impairment

The 2010 case study, 25-Hydroxyvitamin D, dementia, and cerebrovascular pathology in elders receiving home services, sought to examine the association between vitamin D status, dementia, and cranial MRI indicators of cerebrovascular disease (CVD).  There were 318 participants with a mean age of 73.5, mostly women.  There was a higher prevalence of dementia among patients with 25(OH)D insufficiency (<20 ng/mL).  The conclusion was that a vitamin D insufficiency was associated with more than twice the odds of all-cause dementia, Alzheimer disease, stroke, and MRI indicators of CVD.  “These findings suggest a potential vasculoprotective role of vitamin D.” 

The 2010 case study, Association of vitamin D deficiency with cognitive impairment in older women, sought to  examine the association between serum 25(OH)D (25-HydroxyvitaminD) deficiency and cognitive impairment while taking confounders (like age, body, chronic disease, physical activity, etc.) into account.  The groups of women (752 subjects over age 75) were divided according to their serum 25(OH)D concentrations either being deficient (<10 ng/mL) or non-deficient (>10 ng/mL).  The conclusions found that 25-Hydroxyvitamin D deficiency was associated with cognitive impairment in these subjects. 

  • Vitamin D Impact on Multiple Sclerosis

The 2004 case study, Vitamin D intake and the incidence of multiple sclerosis, sought to indicate a protective effect of vitamin D on the risk of MS.  The study compared women at relative risk for developing MS.  Intake of vitamin D supplements was inversely associated with the risk of MS, compared to no supplemental intake.  Although purely statistical, “these results support a protective effect of vitamin D intake on risk of developing MS.” 

In the 2004 paper, Vitamin D supplementation in the Fight Against Multiple Sclerosis,  indicates “In summary, vitamin D hormone has numerous effects on the immune system and acts within the CNS. All of these effects have the combined result of significantly reducing inflammatory autoimmune reactions from occurring and they readily explain the impressive correlation between MS prevalence and vitamin D supply and why vitamin D hormone is so effective in suppressing a variety of animal autoimmune diseases including EAE (animal MS).”

Other research has shown that the levels of vitamin D in the body can predict periods of low or high MS disease activity, so the higher the vitamin D, the lower the disease activity.

  • Vitamin D and Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

The 2002 study, A Polymorphism with the Vitamin d-Binding Protein Gene Is Associated with Graves’ Disease nut Not with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, investigated the polymorphic vitamin D-binding protein (DBP) gene, which greatly facilitates vitamin D actions, with association with thyroid autoimmunity.  They found, “allelic variants of the DBP gene confer susceptibility to Graves’ disease but not to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in our population. These findings support a role of the vitamin D endocrine system in thyroid autoimmunity.”

Their study also indicated, “There is evidence for a role of the vitamin D endocrine system in the pathogenesis of thyroid autoimmunity. 1,25(OH)2 D3 prevents autoimmune thyroiditis in animal models. In humans, serum levels of 1,25(OH)2 D3 were found to be significantly lower in autoimmune than in nonautoimmune hyperthyroidism.”

 A 2006 study, Vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms are associated with risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in Chinese patients in Taiwan, investigate if single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the Vitamin D receptor (VDR) are associated with HE patients.  “The results revealed a significant difference between HT patients and normal controls in VDR SNP and a statistic correlation between VDR-FokI polymorphisms and HT formation. It could be concluded that patients who carry the C/C homozygote of the VDR-FokI gene polymorphism in exon 2 may have a higher risk of developing HT in Chinese patients in Taiwan.”

  • Vitamin D and Environmental Factors

The 2000 case study, Vitamin D and Autoimmunity:  Is Vitamin D Status an Environmental Factor Affecting Autoimmune Disease Prevalence?, indicates “Geographical areas with low supplies of vitamin D (for example Scandinavia) correlate with regions with high incidences of multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and diabetes. The active form of vitamin D has been shown to suppress the development of autoimmunity in experimental animal models. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency increases the severity of at least experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (mouse multiple sclerosis).”

  • Lack of Vitamin D and Aggravating Immune Response

A 2009 article, Vitamin D Deficiency Related To Increased Inflammation In Healthy Women, indicates “The findings reveal that low vitamin D levels negatively impact inflammation and immune response, even in healthy women,” said Catherine Peterson, assistant professor in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. “Increased inflammation normally is found in people with obesity or chronic diseases; a small decrease in vitamin D levels may aggravate symptoms in people who are sick.”

Ending thoughts on this post:

Although I couldn’t find any published information directly linking Vitamin D deficiency to HE, it is clear that it plays a role in many other autoimmune diseases.  One question is what role the deficiency plays in the cause or result of the disease. 

The case studies have shown from a symptomatic level that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to cognitive impairment and inflammatory responses.  Increasing /supplementing Vitamin D in the patient has been shown to help reduce and alleviate symptoms, and in animals has even been shown to suppress the development of autoimmunity.

Out of the 8 people who responded in the HELPS group, 7 had confirmed Vitamin D deficiency (the 8th is unconfirmed).  Although it would have been nice for more to respond, I think it is clear Vitamin D deficiency is playing a role in our disease.

Anyone who is Vitamin D deficient, should consult their doctor to be put on supplementation.

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