The risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) could be increased if a child fails to receive enough vitamin D before and after birth, according to a study.
Researchers from Oxford University and the University of British Columbia, in Canada, found that MS susceptibility was influenced by vitamin D levels coupled with a common genetic variant.
The study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, showed that children with the gene mutation may be more at risk of developing the disease if they lack vitamin D while growing in the womb or during their early years.
MS is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults. More than 85,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide are thought to suffer from the condition, which results from the loss of nerve fibres and their protective myelin sheath "insulation".
Although the causes of MS are unclear, experts believe that both environmental and genetic factors play a role.
Previous studies showed that those living in northern Europe were more at risk of MS due to a lack of sunshine.
This could be explained by the link with vitamin D, which is produced in the skin through the action of sunlight.
Experts have now suggested that mothers take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as well as give them to young children as a preventive measure.