Could Sunshine Reduce MS Risk in Children?

Getting a lot of sunshine is a great way to get vitamin D. But according to new research, exposure to sunlight could have another unexpected benefit for young children.

Getting Some Sun

Conducted by researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the Australian National University, this study examined a total of 332 subjects. These individuals ranged in age from 3 to 22, and on average had been living with MS for seven months. For comparison, the research team also examined 534 volunteers with no history of multiple sclerosis.

To determine their subjects’ amounts of sun exposure, the study authors gave questionnaires to the children with MS or their parents. From these questionnaires, the researchers found that nearly one in five (19 percent) of these children reported spending less than 30 minutes outside per day during the previous summer. In contrast, the figure stood at 6 percent for those without MS.

The researchers then put these figures to the test by factoring in other risks for Multiple Sclerosis, such as smoking or being female. Even with this new data entered into the equation, the connection held firm; the children and teenagers who spent 30 to 60 minutes outdoors each day were far less likely to develop MS, to the tune of 52 percent.

D for Defense

While the vast majority of people with MS develop this condition in adulthood, it is not unheard of for multiple sclerosis to develop in children. In fact, of the roughly 1 million people in the US with this disease, an estimated 3 to 5 percent first start experiencing symptoms in childhood.

The research team published their work in the December 8, 2021 issue of the journal Neurology. In a UCSF press release, study co-author Emmanuelle Waubant offered an explanation for the study’s findings. “Sun exposure is known to boost vitamin D levels. It also stimulates immune cells in the skin that have a protective role in diseases such as MS,” stated Waubant. “Vitamin D may also change the biological function of the immune cells and, as such, play a role in protecting against autoimmune diseases.”

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