Prevention & Recovery

5 potential risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis

By: Rhea Seymour

Photography by Kevin Wong Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Kevin Wong

Prevention & Recovery

5 potential risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis

By: Rhea Seymour

Vitamin D deficiency
"The further away from the equator you go, the more common the disease is," says Christina Wolfson, professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal. Some studies have shown that vitamin D appears to provide protection against the development of MS, says Wolfson. "But there are millions of people who don't get a lot of vitamin D and don't develop MS, so it's not that alone." Canada's Food Guide recommends 500 millilitres of milk every day for adequate vitamin D, and those over the age of 50 should also take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU.

Viruses
Early exposure to Epstein-Barr virus, a common contagion that causes mononucleosis, may be part of what causes MS. "There are many people who have been exposed to Epstein-Barr virus who do not go on to develop MS, so the question of how these factors act together to cause MS is still under study," says Wolfson.

Smoking
Increasing evidence has linked cigarette smoking to MS. "It's probably related to immune function," says Wolfson. "Some studies show that high levels of smoking are also associated with a more progressive course of the disease."

Genes
Genetics may make you susceptible to MS, but then something else— usually environmental, like a virus—triggers it, says Dr. Mark Freedman, professor of neurology at the University of Ottawa and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. "Genes load the gun, but something fires it."
Obesity
It may explain why MS is more common among women, says Yves Savoie. "We are
all getting more obese, but the female immune system reacts to obesity in a different way than the male immune system." Obesity may also explain the growing rate of MS among children and adolescents. "The number diagnosed remains very small, but the rate of growth is troubling."

Are you at risk? Here's everything you need to know about MS.

This story was originally part of "When MS Closes In" in the April 2015 issue.
           
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Prevention & Recovery

5 potential risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis

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