July 11, 2011 -- People in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS) often have low levels of vitamin D and low bone density -- indicating bone thinning -- and thus are at increased risk of suffering fractures, a study shows.
Doctors in Norway say their research suggests that doctors treating people in the early stages of MS should take steps to prevent osteoporosis in their patients by ensuring that they get adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium.
"Vitamin D insufficiency may lead to both low peak bone mass and high bone loss," the researchers write.
The study involved 99 people with an average age of 37 who had recently been diagnosed with MS or clinically isolated syndrome -- a condition that describes patients who have experienced symptoms of MS but have not been diagnosed with the disease.
The participants had bone density tests an average of 1.6 years after their first symptoms, suggesting that they might have MS. Their tests were compared to bone density studies of 159 people of similar age, sex, and ethnicity who did not have MS.
The study is published in the July 12 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
MS and Low Bone Density
The researchers say 51% of people with MS had either osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone density that puts a person at risk for osteoporosis) compared to 37% who did not have multiple sclerosis.
"These results suggest that people in the early stages of MS and their doctors need to consider steps to prevent osteoporosis and maintain good bone health," study researcher Stine Marit Moen, MD, of Oslo University Hospital in Norway, says in a news release. "This could include changing their diet to ensure adequate vitamin D and calcium levels, starting or increasing weight-bearing activities and taking medications."
Moen says doctors have "known that people who have had MS for a long time are at a greater risk of low bone density and broken bones, but we didn't know whether this was happening soon after the onset of MS and if it was caused by factors such as their lack of exercise due to lack of mobility or their medications or reduced vitamin D from lack of sun exposure."
The researchers say their study suggests that decreased bone density appears to occur soon after MS symptoms begin to appear.
Moen and several research colleagues report having received funds from pharmaceutical companies for research or speaking fees.