Potential Link Between Reduced MS Risk In Children And Sunlight Found By New Study

South Shore Health

While many doctors and health experts will tell you to take precaution when under the harmful rays of the sun, another study has found that just spending 30 minutes in the sun every day could substantially lessen the risk of multiple sclerosis in children.

As explained by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is described as ‘an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.’

When it comes to adult-onset multiple sclerosis (MS), low sun and ultraviolet radiation exposure has often been found as a risk factor for the disease. Meanwhile, a new study is looking into the same risk factors when it comes to pediatric or child-onset MS. The National MS Society also shares that they estimate at least 2.3 million people or more worldwide have been given an MS diagnosis.

Normally, MS is normally detected during the ages of 20 and 50, yet 3-10% of these patients already start feeling symptoms as young as 18 years old or less.


What Are the Risk Factors For Developing MS?

In a new study that appears in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, which is also named Neurology, researchers have found that there is a probable link between a lowered risk of children developing MS and how much time they spend outdoors.

The study also shares that for those kids that have more sun exposure during their first year after birth, they have lowered odds of developing MS later on in life. Researchers also understand that adult-onset MS is usually caused by a combination of factors, such as low vitamin D concentrations, low ultraviolet radiation exposure, genetic predisposition, and low sun exposure.

While previous studies that look at the relationship between MS, UV exposure and sun exposure have involved adults with MS, this new study looks at children, adolescents, and young adults, all between the ages of 4 and 22.


What Were the Study Methods and Results?

The research group took participants from 16 different pediatric hospitals within the United States. They also included volunteers that were given an MS diagnosis before they turned 18, which resulted in finding around 330 people within the needed criteria.

Meanwhile, the control participants had no personal history of any autoimmune disease, as well as no parental history of MS, and no severe health conditions. The study group also enlisted around 530 controls, also from the same hospitals, and matched them according to their ages and gender with the MS participants.

They had all study participants, or the parents or guardians, complete a questionnaire that asked information about their age, gender, race and medical history. The research group made sure to measure how much sun exposure they got, which was counted via the amount of time they spent outdoors at various ages, as well as their use of sun protection such as sunscreen, hats and clothing during the most recent summer.

Moreover, they also based the amount of ultraviolent light exposure for every participant on that person’s birthplace and residence during the time of the study. They also took blood samples for all the study participants as well.

To better the outcome of the study, the research group made sure to adjust depending on factors that could possibly heighten MS risk like gender or smoke exposure. What they found in their analysis was that participants that managed to spend an average of at least 30 minutes to an hour outside during the summer before the study showed a 50% lower risk of MS.

Incredibly, for those that spent time outdoors at an average of one to two hours daily, the risk of MS lowered by a staggering 81%. Data also showed that the more time that was spent outside during the first year of life had associations of lowered risk of developing MS too.

Another factor that is linked with MS risk is the intensity of sun exposure, like for those living in Florida, there’s a 21% lowered risk of MS than someone who happens to live in New York. But one limitation of the study was that it didn’t prove that sun exposure prevents MS, but rather, that it has an association with lowered risk of developing MS.

One of the study authors, Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant from the University of California in San Francisco, who also happens to be a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, shares that the results of the study so far have been quite promising, and encouraging for parents to make sure their kids spend time outdoors.

Dr. Waubant said in an interview with Medical News Today (MNT), “More specifically for people who have a first-degree relative with MS, they should definitely have the children spend more time outdoors with the idea that it lessens the risk of MS.”


Other Study Strengths and Limitations

Considering the amount of racially diverse participants that were matched for biological age and sex, while being recruited from a number of health centers, the study was considered quite impressive.

But one limitation of the study, as explained by the researchers, was the possible recall error because of the used questionnaire. But, researchers also conclude that since the same questionnaire was used on all participants, the potential limitations were probably mostly minor.

Manager of Research Information from the National MS Society, Sara Bernstein, reacted to the request of MNT to comment on the study.

She shared, “More information is needed to determine the exact role of sunlight in the development of MS, but these results help to raise awareness about the importance of being outdoors.”

While former studies have focused on low vitamin D levels as a main risk factor for pediatric MS, this new study resulted in higher vitamin D levels in the blood of the participants with MS. The research group claimed that this was because of the possibility of vitamin D supplementation that occurred soon after they were given a diagnosis of MS.

In the end, the study authors explain, “Our findings suggest that advising regular time in the sun of at least 30 minutes daily during summer, using sun protection as needed, especially for first-degree relatives of MS patients, may be a worthwhile intervention to reduce the incidence of pediatric MS.”