The environment in which the encounter of antigen with the immune system occurs determines whether tolerance, infectious immunity, or autoimmunity results. Geographical areas with low supplies of vitamin D (for example Scandinavia) correlate with regions with high incidences of multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and diabetes.

The active form of vitamin D has been shown to suppress the development of autoimmunity in experimental animal models. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency increases the severity of at least experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (mouse multiple sclerosis). Targets for vitamin D in the immune system have been identified, and the mechanisms of vitamin D-mediated immunoregulation are beginning to be understood.

This review discusses the possibility that vitamin D status is an environmental factor, which by shaping the immune system affects the prevalence rate for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and juvenile diabetes.