Feb. 9, 2010 -- Pregnant women who drink plenty of milk may be protecting their child from developing multiple sclerosis (MS) in the future.
MS is a nervous system disease that attacks the material, called myelin, that covers nerve fibers. This disrupts signaling between nerves and causes nerve damage, leading to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, fatigue, loss of vision, and possibly, paralysis. The disease most often strikes adults after age 20, but it can develop in children.
Growing evidence has suggested that vitamin D, found in fortified milk, may lower one’s risk of MS. Now, researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have shown that it’s possible this protective benefit could begin while a baby is developing in the womb.
The study involved more than 35,000 female nurses whose mothers answered questions about their diet habits during pregnancy. It revealed that women born to mothers who had the highest intake of vitamin D had a much lower risk of developing MS as an adult. Among the nurses studied, 199 developed MS over the 16-year study period.
"The risk of MS among daughters whose mothers consumed four glasses of milk per day was 56% lower than daughters whose mothers consumed less than three glasses of milk per month," Harvard researcher Fariba Mirzaei, MD, says in a news release.
"We also found the risk of MS among daughters whose mothers were in the top 20% of vitamin D intake during pregnancy was 45% lower than daughters whose mothers were in the bottom 20% for vitamin D intake during pregnancy."
Vitamin D is found in certain foods and beverages such as fortified milk and cereals, and fatty fish such as salmon. However, few foods naturally contain the vitamin. Your body also makes vitamin D after the skin absorbs some of the sun’s rays. Sunlight is one of the most important sources of vitamin D.
Researchers will present their findings in April at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto.