New study identifies low sun exposure as risk factor in pediatric-onset MS.
Lifestyles that keep us sofa-bound watching television, playing video games or sitting at a desk all day have definitely contributed to being labeled as the “indoor generation.”
But every day, we see more evidence that getting outside and soaking up a healthy amount of sunlight is good for not just adult bodies and brains…it’s critical for our children as well.
A recently published Australian study identified that low sun exposure and commensurate low vitamin D status is associated with an increased risk factor for developing pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (MS). We knew that these same risks were present in adult MS and now we can see more evidence that our indoor way of life could be impacting children too. But this is also a modifiable risk factor in that we actually can do something about it now. Other concerns are childhood obesity and exposure to cigarette smoke – again, more lifestyle-mitigated issues that are possible to address and best to do so early in life.
Study findings noted that “even spending 30 minutes to one hour produced a relatively large and statistically significant reduction in risk, compared to the reference category of less than 30 minutes,” according to lead study author, Prince Sebastian, Australian National University, Canberra. Compared with children who spent less than 30 minutes outside, those spending up to an hour outdoors each day during the most recent summer had a 2.6 times lower MS risk. Spending one to two hours outside translated to 7.4 times lesser risk.1
It’s virtually impossible to obtain the vitamin D we need from food sources alone, even in the healthiest of diets and unfortunately it’s apparent that we don’t get outside nearly often enough or for adequate amounts of time. Previous research has found that approximately 90 percent of people spend close to 22 hours inside every day. One in six respondents to a recent YouGov survey admitted that they practically never go outside, spending up to 24 hours a day indoors. And this isn’t just a problem in the U.S. nor is it only a result of the last year’s dramatic lifestyle changes – a 2018 article reported on research in the U.K. and Ireland that found children spent twice as long looking at screens as they did playing outside. It stands to reason that this figure won’t have improved in recent months.
Regular sun exposure is the most natural way to get enough vitamin D. To maintain healthy blood levels, strive for 10 to 30 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week; people with darker-skinned complexions may need to spend a little more time than this. But of course, individuals who are fairer-skinned or burn easily will likely have been told to wear sunscreen.
So what can we do? My advice is that we also regularly take a high quality vitamin D3 supplement. It is so important for all of us to do everything we can to improve our immune terrain. And I often have spoken about how vital it is to have therapeutic vitamin D levels in the range of 60-80 (in most instances and based on individual health statuses). Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses, while deficiency of this important nutrient is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.2
Studies have shown that in addition to helping boost our vitamin D, time spent in nature is truly a natural antidote for stress. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, help reduce nervous system arousal, enhance our immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and aggression have been found to lessen in natural environments, which can also help speed the rate of healing. In a recent study, psychiatric unit researchers found that being in nature, specifically gardening, “reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.” And we know just how beneficial a garden can be – Grandmother Toman passed on that wisdom with our family and it’s a lesson we’ve shared as well! https://www.suzannegazdamd.com/blog/grannys-gardening-wisdom-garden-for-life
We don’t have to resign ourselves to being the Indoor Generation…I encourage you to view this short video to better understand how this impacts our overall and mental health, our lives and our children’s futures. Find ways as a family to get away from all the screens and get outside where you can safely enjoy all the beauty and benefits of nature - and get your daily dose of all that vitamin D-containing sunlight!
In hope and healing,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
For more about why our bodies and brains need vitamin D please see:
Vitamin D deficiency linked to neurodegenerative disease.
More studies point to the critical importance of vitamin D in immune health.
Vitamin D deficiency – is it another health crisis in the making?
More findings support the relationship between MS and vitamin D.
1 Sebastian, P. et al. Low Sun Exposure is a Risk Factor for Pediatric-Onset Multiple Sclerosis. Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis Forum (ACTRIMS) 2021.https://www.abstractsonline.com/pp8/#!/9245/presentation/50
2 Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology