What Does Your Birthday Have to Do With Immune Disorders?

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The month in which babies are born can affect how their immune systems develop, and even how vulnerable they are to autoimmune diseases.

Scientists studying the neurological disorder multiple sclerosis (MS), in which the body’s own immune cells destroy the protective coating around nerves and can lead to paralysis and loss of other functions, have long been puzzled by the “birth month effect.” Many patients with MS are born in the spring, and rates of the disease are lowest for those born in November. Some have speculated that insufficient levels of vitamin D, which the skin produces when exposed to sunlight, on the mom’s part could play a role, since babies born in May are gestated during the colder, darker months, while winter babies are in utero during the spring and summer. Now a study published in JAMA Neurology shows that this hunch may be correct, and suggests a mechanism for how the vitamin might be driving immune system development.

(MORE: Vitamin D and Calcium: Not Recommended for Postmenopausal Women)

Researchers in the UK studied 50 babies born in London in May and 50 babies born in November between 2009 and 2010. They sampled blood from the newborns’ umbilical chords and recorded levels of vitamin D and a specific type of immune cell known as autoreactive T-cells. T-cells are the white blood cells that battle pathogens like bacteria and viruses, but autoreactive T-cells are aberrant versions that mistake the body’s own cells as foreign and attack them as they would an unwanted infection.

(MORE: Study: Multiple Sclerosis Drug May Not Slow Disease Progression)

The researchers found that babies born in May had vitamin D levels that were 20% lower than those in babies born in November, and almost double the amount of autoreactive T-cells. They speculate that vitamin D may be important in some way in educating T cells about how to recognize self cells; this occurs in the thymus, and errors in the training could lead to higher levels of the destructive T cells.

The connection between vitamin D and immune disorders first emerged from population studies that showed  people who lived further away from the equator, in places with less sunlight, were at higher risk of developing MS. But the researchers caution that their results still don’t suggest that lower levels of the vitamin cause autoimmune disorders like MS. So it’s not clear yet whether supplements of vitamin D could help to lower rates of the disease — especially for those conceived in July and born in May. In fact, experts continue to debate how much vitamin D is appropriate for otherwise healthy people when it comes to preventing disease, since studies on the subject are conflicting. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends that adults get about 600 IU daily.

(MORE: Jack Osbourne’s MS: After the Diagnosis)

More research is needed to figure out whether pregnant women might need to take more vitamin D in order to strengthen their babies’ immune systems, but doctors now have a better understanding of what birth months have to do with how the immune system develops.

16 comments
youniquelikeme
youniquelikeme

@Barbara  "Cold" has nothing to do with vitamin D.  It is the vector of the suns rays and how much is absorbed through the skin or how many supplements or fortified products you use!   Vitamin D is made by the skin exposure to UV (absorbed by cholesterol... one great use for it most do not know about) and cannot be utilized until it is metabolized by the liver and can only be utilized until transformed by the kidneys.  It is then stored in your body fat until you neeed it.   10 minutes a day is all you need, but the vector of the sun in the winter months is such you could be naked  and exposed for hours and not get much Vitamin D.

Being anyone who does not live near the equator might not be getting any significant UV rays from the sun in the Sept to Apr months (and also cannot get it if using sunscreen 100% of the time in summer either or an elderly person not given exposure to fresh air) it is possible 70% of the world's population may be deficient to some degree.

It is also known that the Vitamin D receptors in the body are everywhere and in most of your glands, so it has EVERYTHING to do with a person's health and possibly a lot to do with MS.  It isn't just your bones that needs it, so I suggest reading on some medical sites before commenting.  (definciency links to cancer, Osteoperosis, bone fractures, vascular health, immune response are well known.  The risks for auto immune diseases like Diabetes and MS are in their infancy.    If a mother didn't get enough sun or had a deficiency because she didn't get enough milk or dairy or supplement,  and that may be a factor in MS you can bet people want to know... so let the science speak and let's hope and pray they find the sources and a cure for the multitude of people I know with it and all others around the globe.



rjohnb
rjohnb

I was born in April, and was diagnosed with low Vitamin D levels before being diagnosed with MS.

Barbara
Barbara

Not everyone lives in a climate where it is cold during "winter months, " so there are many, many places where women would be outside and getting plenty of vitamin D.  The study is very flawed and very unscientific. 

opwernby1
opwernby1

I'm not sure a study based on 50 people means anything at all: if it were 50,000 I might take it seriously, but this is just stupid: within a group of 50 people, the randomness isn't evened out: pick a different 50 and you'll have a whole different result.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Another useless article/study .

StormyWeather
StormyWeather

So what they're really saying is it's the conception month...not the birth month. Why sugar coat it????? Oh wait, because there's no scientific evidence to any of it. Vitamin D you can get from milk, eggs, Ham, salami, Sausage....and a host of other things...not just from the sun.

busbytime
busbytime

The obvious test for the relationship between birth month and MS would be to test the correlation in the southern hemisphere.  If MS is more frequent among people born during the last quarter of the year in the southern hemisphere, that would greatly strengthen the above argument.  I suspect that study is already underway somewhere.

rlm_11
rlm_11

Once again people misconstrue association with cause.  This research is not the definitive answer to who gets MS or its cause.  However, there seems to be an association related to when you're born.  And that may be associated with your mother's (and subsequently your) vitamin D levels.  That's all it's saying.  While a study like this may seem pointless or stupid to some, please open your mind to the fact that it is a necessary stepping stone to future research on MS/autoimmune disorders as they may or may not relate to vitamin D and T cell levels.

JoeMauro
JoeMauro

what garbage,how does this pass as valid information?????

MomWizCom
MomWizCom

While this may hold true for some cases of MS and other autoimmune disorders, certainly it doesn't hold true for all.  Some families have genetic tendencies to autoimmunity, regardless of birth dates. My own family is one example. While many of us suffer from similar autoimmune diseases, our birth dates occur throughout the year.  I agree with Canary, the correlation is not universal.

TheCanarySings
TheCanarySings

I've been following articles on this research, many people who are commenting claim their family and friends with MS were born in November, I have a family member with MS who was born in November, even Jack Osbourne(the article above is about him) has MS and was born in November. I don't know, this research may be incorrectly reading into the birthday correlation.

SilentBoy741
SilentBoy741

It's absolutely true.  After a multi-billion dollar study of the correlation between birthdays and disease, it was discovered that an astonishing 100% of all subjects treated for any disease had experienced at least 1 birthday with the last year.  A staggering number of these subjects had experienced several birthdays throughout their lifetimes.  Naturally, this kind of correlation cannot be ignored; many, many more very expensive studies are still required.