Consuming milk and a high dietary intake of vitamin D while pregnant may lower children’s risk of developing multiple sclerosis later in life, Harvard researchers find.
The findings, released online last Tuesday by the American Academy of Neurology, suggest that vitamin D and milk may help prevent the onset of debilitating autoimmune disease starting from gestation.
Over the course of 16 years, a team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health tracked a pool of 35,794 female nurses and analyzed the dietary habits of the subjects’ mothers while they were pregnant. Of the nurses followed in the study, 199 developed MS.
Nurses whose mothers drank at least four glasses of milk a day were 56 percent less likely to develop MS than those whose mothers drank less than three glasses per month, according to the study’s lead author, Fariba Mirzaei of the School of Public Health.
Mirzaei and her colleagues found a similar correlation between vitamin D intake and the risk of developing the disease.
The researchers said that they plan to continue studying the link between vitamin D and MS to identify the threshold at which vitamin D consumption maximizes its preventative effect on MS.
“This would be of particular interest to women who have multiple sclerosis because they might have a solution to prevent their offspring from developing multiple sclerosis,” Mirzaei said.
The team will also examine the possibility of using vitamin D to treat those already diagnosed with MS.
The researchers’ recent findings corroborate a growing body of evidence that points to a correlation between the consumption of vitamin D and the onset of MS.
Kassandra Munger, a research associate in the School of Public Health’s department of nutrition also part of the research team—conducted an earlier study on the link published in 2004.
Munger’s study—which examined the diet and vitamin D levels of more than 180,000 nurses and members of the U.S. military over several decades—found that women taking the recommended dose of vitamin D exhibited a 40 percent decreased risk of contracting multiple sclerosis.