Multiple sclerosis (MS) incidence and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) levels vary by race/ethnicity. We examined the consistency of beneficial effects of 25OHD and/or sun exposure for MS risk across multiple racial/ethnic groups. We recruited incident MS cases and controls (blacks 116 cases/131 controls; Hispanics 183/197; whites 247/267) from the membership of Kaiser Permanente Southern California into the MS Sunshine Study to simultaneously examine sun exposure and 25OHD, accounting for genetic ancestry and other factors. Higher lifetime ultraviolet radiation exposure (a rigorous measure of sun exposure) was associated with a lower risk of MS independent of serum 25OHD levels in blacks (adjusted OR = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.31-0.83; p = 0.007) and whites (OR = 0.68, 95% CI = 0.48-0.94; p = 0.020) with a similar magnitude of effect that did not reach statistical significance in Hispanics (OR = 0.66, 95% CI = 0.42-1.04; p = 0.071). Higher serum 25OHD levels were associated with a lower risk of MS only in whites. No association was found in Hispanics or blacks regardless of how 25OHD was modeled. Lifetime sun exposure appears to reduce the risk of MS regardless of race/ethnicity. In contrast, serum 25OHD levels are not associated with MS risk in blacks or Hispanics. Our findings challenge the biological plausibility of vitamin D deficiency as causal for MS and call into question the targeting of specific serum 25OHD levels to achieve health benefits, particularly in blacks and Hispanics.
Keywords: Hispanics; blacks; multiple sclerosis; sun exposure; vitamin D.