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Jan 27, 2014 09:37 AM EST

In a new study by Harvard University, researchers say Vitamin D can halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). The experts assert that rectifying vitamin D deficiency is important during the early stages of the disease because it helps in keeping the symptoms at bay.

Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author, said that the sunshine vitamin can prove beneficial to early stage MS patients.

"These findings, combined with previous evidence that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for MS, and [research on] the immunological effects of vitamin D strongly suggest that maintaining an adequate vitamin D status is important in the treatment of MS," Ascherio said in a statement.

MS is a central nervous system disease that affects muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling, and thinking. According to World Health Organization, roughly 2.5 million people suffer from MS globally.

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For the study, the researchers observed data of 465 MS patients belonging to 18 European countries, Israel, and Canada from the BENEFIT (Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) trial.

The trial looked at the advantages of early treatment over late treatment with interferon beta-1b.

The researchers recorded patients' vitamin D levels at the beginning of their symptoms and at regular intervals for over a year. They then observed its effect on the disease symptoms and progression over a period of five years.

They found that early stage MS patients with sufficient levels of vitamin D had a 57 percent lower risk of new brain lesions and relapse rate. They also had a 25 percent lower yearly increase in T2 lesion size (these appear as bright spots on an MRI) than those who had insufficient amounts of vitamin D. A reduced brain volume loss was also observed in patients with required vitamin D levels.

 "The benefits of vitamin D appeared to be additive to those of interferon beta-1b, a drug that is very effective in reducing MS activity. The findings of our study indicate that identifying and correcting vitamin D insufficiency should become part of the standard of care for newly diagnosed MS patients," Ascherio said in a statement.

The finding has been published online in JAMA Neurology.

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