Childhood Sun Exposure May Influence Risk Of Developing Multiple Sclerosis

New research has suggested that people who spend more time in the sun as a child are less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS).

Scientists in California have released results of a study involving 70 pairs of identical twins in which one twin had MS while the other did not, which examined their history of sun exposure.

The twins were asked how much time they had spent outdoors on hot and cold days, how much time they had spent on getting a tan, going to the beach, and taking part in team sports. Sun exposure was gauged according to a sun exposure index (SI).

Scientists found a strong connection between a lack of sun exposure and development of MS and discovered that a twin spending more time in the sun as a child was up to 40 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with MS in later life.

Dr Laura Bell, research communications officer at the MS Society, said: “This interesting study highlights the role of sunlight in MS development and supports findings from previous similar studies.

“There are issues involved in accuracy of recall in studies based on self reporting from participants, however the authors do point out that their data was collected when sun exposure was not considered to be an important factor in MS development – meaning participants would be less likely to unintentionally bias their activities,” she said.

The causes of MS are unknown. However, research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role in its development.

If a twin has MS there is a one in three chance the other twin will have MS as its development is not due to genetic susceptibility alone.

It is thought exposure to sunlight could bring about protection against autoimmune disease such as MS by any number of several immunosuppressive mechanisms such as vitamin D production.

Laura added: “Further studies of the pathways by which sun exposure reduces MS risk would be beneficial in determining factors involved in MS development.”

Read more information about vitamins and minerals on the MS Society’s diet and nutrition pages.

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