Multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that affects the nerves, could be due to inadequate sunlight along with glandular fever, mononucleosis, report researchers at the University of Oxford.
Although there are other risk factors, and it has already been established that the incidence of the disease is more frequent in places further away from the equator, this study has added more evidence, the MS society has claimed. The two factors accounted for 72% of variations in MS occurrence across the UK.
The study has scrutinized all hospital admissions in England between 1998 and 2005 and found 56,681 multiple sclerosis [MS] cases and 14,621 cases of glandular fever, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
MS destroys the myelin sheath, the protective layer around the nerves, disrupting the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. It results in muscle weakness, difficulty in movement and blurred vision.
MS affects about 100,000 people in the UK with Scotland recording the highest number - around 10,500 suffer from the disease.
Using data on sunlight intensity and levels of ultraviolet light in England from NASA, the researchers have concluded that a lack of Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the development of the disease.
Professor George Ebers, from the University of Oxford, said: "It's possible that vitamin D [which is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight] deficiency may lead to an abnormal response to the Epstein-Barr virus. More research should be done on whether increasing UVB exposure or using vitamin D supplements and possible treatments or vaccines for the Epstein-Barr virus could lead to fewer cases of MS."
Dr. Doug Brown, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, and Pam Macfarlane, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Trust have also called for further research.