MS Risk Factors and Vitamin D
MS is the most common neurological problems that affects the central nervous system. It usually appears in people about 20 or 30 years-old and is characterized by an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, which is a consequence of the loss of the myelin sheath. The course of the disease is random and varies from person to person. It’s caused by outbreaks that affect our different systems. Many people feel fatigued, lack balance and coordination, and visual, tactile, cognitive, and emotional alterations, intestinal and bladder problems, tremors… Someone with MS will probably experience more than one of these symptoms, but not all of them and never to the same degree. MS is a complicated disease with a lot of different treatments that help slow its progression or treat the symptoms, but not the underlying cause. In this article, we’re going to talk about the causes and some risk factors of this disease so that we can learn to understand it better.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
The causes of MS are currently unknown and probably has a multifaceted origin. It is clear, however, that it is an autoimmune disease.
The immune system is in charge of fighting off any external and potentially dangerous agents. For example, when we get a cold we’re infected by a virus or a cancerous cell. To fight off this virus, the immune system activates, and our body sends out organisms to destroy the malignant cells, attacking the virus, bacteria, or the foreign objects that our bodies consider a threat. What happens with autoimmune diseases is that our body doesn’t recognize some cells or organs from our own bodies, which makes our body try to destroy them. With MS, the immune system reacts to the myelin and destroys it, thinking it to be a dangerous foreign organism.
Another cause that should be considered, even though it’s not very contrasted, is the possibility of being exposed to certain viruses as a child that makes one more prone to develop MS.
Risk factors of MS
MS is much more common in women than men.
MS is not a genetic disease, but there does seem to be some kind of hereditary predisposition, as it is normal to find multiple cases of MS in the same family. MS is a complicated disease that is governed by a pattern of “polygenic” inheritance, where several genes are subject to some unknown environmental conditions that may predispose the disease.
There are many investigations in the genetic field, and they have found various mutations in genes related to inflammation and tumor necrosis. Studies from the GWAS (genome-wide association study) have found many new genes related to MS, but they’re still not sure of all of the functional relations that these mutations may have.
It is believed that the geographic region where someone grows up may also affect MS. Northern and Central European countries have a higher number of MS cases than Southern European and African countries. The exact environmental factors that would cause this difference is still unknown, but it does seem that there is one.
Stress levels and hormone fluctuation
High physical or emotional stress level may cause MS outbreaks. Some hormonal factors may also play a role in MS outbreaks.
Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy
A recent study conducted by Kassandra L. Munger, from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston, found that the risk of developing MS increased 90% in those children whose mother presented vitamin D deficiencies during the first trimester of pregnancy (levels of 25 (OH) below 12.02 ng/mL) compared to mothers with normal vitamin D levels. This study doesn’t show if increasing vitamin D intake during pregnancy decreases the risk of having MS, but it does open new doors to treatment research.
We know that vitamin D is an important vitamin that is necessary for keeping our bones strong (it helps absorb calcium), but it’s also needed to help muscles move, to easily transmit information from nerve to nerve, and to help the immune system combat viruses and bacteria that attack our bodies. We also know that the most common way to get this vitamin is from sun exposure (although some foods like blue fish, cheeses, and vow liver also contain it). While this study can’t yet be taken as positive fact, the issue needs to be researched more and proved in other settings. However, it is interesting to note that countries with more vitamin D exposure have lower numbers of MS cases.
Molly is a writer specialized in health and psychology. She is passionate about neuroscience and how the brain works, and is constantly looking for new content from interesting sources. Molly is happy to give or take advice, and is always working to educate and inspire.
This post is also available in: Spanish