Background: Low vitamin D and/or sun exposure have been associated with increased risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) onset. However, comparatively, few studies have prospectively examined associations between these factors and clinical course.
Objectives: To evaluate the association of sun exposure parameters and vitamin D levels with conversion to MS and relapse risk in a prospectively monitored cohort of 145 participants followed after a first demyelinating event up to 5-year review (AusLong Study).
Methods: Sun exposure prior to and after onset measured by annual questionnaire; ultraviolet radiation (UVR) "load" estimated by location of residence over the life course and ambient UVR levels. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentrations measured at baseline, 2/3-year, and 5-year review. MS conversion and relapse assessed by neurologist assessment and medical record review.
Results: Over two-thirds (69%) of those followed to 5-year review (100/145) converted to MS, with a total of 252 relapses. Higher pre-MS onset sun exposure was associated with reduced risk of MS conversion, with internal consistency between measures and dose-response relationships. Analogous associations were also seen with risk of relapse, albeit less strong. No consistent associations were observed between postonset sun exposure and clinical course, however. Notably, those who increased their sun exposure during follow-up had significantly reduced hazards of MS conversion and relapse. Serum 25(OH)D levels and vitamin D supplementation were not associated with conversion to MS or relapse hazard.
Conclusion: We found that preonset sun exposure was protective against subsequent conversion to MS and relapses. While consistent associations between postonset sun exposure or serum 25(OH)D level and clinical course were not evident, possibly masked by behavior change, those participants who markedly increased their sun exposure demonstrated a reduced MS conversion and relapse hazard, suggesting beneficial effects of sun exposure on clinical course.
Keywords: CIS; behaviour change; first demyelinating event; multiple sclerosis; relapse; sun exposure; ultraviolet radiation; vitamin D.