It is estimated that around 2.3 million people around the world are living with Multiple Sclerosis. It is a prgressive neurological condition that affects the way nerve signals are transmitted to the rest of the body, which leads to problems with voluntary movement, vision, speech, and cognition. Although there is currently no ultimate cure for Multiple Sclerosis, research continues on MS prevention and steps that people can potentially take to safeguard themselves. Here, we take a closer look at the question of how to prevent Multiple Sclerosis.
Understanding Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune demyelinating disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues — in this case, the myelin or protective covering around nerve fibers. This leaves scarred tissues or lesions in multiple areas, disrupting electrical impulses throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow down or even stop, causing neurological problems. The three types of Multiple Sclerosis are Relapsing-Remitting MS, Primary-Progressive MS, and Secondary-Progressive MS. Treatment can manage the symptoms and slow disease progression so that the patient can live an almost normal life.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
The initial symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis can be vague and hard to identify. Everyone experiences Multiple Sclerosis differently, and some may get symptoms that others do not get. Some of the tell-tale signs patients should watch out for include:
- Blurry or double vision
- Involuntary movement of the eyes
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weakness in the limbs
- Numbness in the hands and/or feet
- Trouble walking
- Slurred speech
- Cognitive problems related to memory and attention span
- Sleep difficulties
- Bladder and/or bowel control issues
Those who have experienced two or more of the above should get a check-up. Doctors will conduct a variety of tests to identify signs of CNS damage and also rule out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
Causes and risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis
Scientists everywhere are continuing the search to understand what causes Multiple Sclerosis and thus potentially find an answer to the question ‘can Multiple Sclerosis be prevented?’ Based on research so far, there are two types of immune cells involved in Multiple Sclerosis, the B cell and the T cell. The T cell becomes activated by an unknown trigger and travels through blood vessels to enter the central nervous system. They then release a variety of molecules that lead to inflammation and nerve damage. B cells can be activated by a type of T cell known as helper T cell, as a result of which they too enter the CNS and release antibodies and proteins that cause CNS damage.
What scientists still do not know is what exactly causes the T cells and B cells to malfunction and attack the nervous system. In general, a combination of genetic and environmental triggers can be held responsible. Some of the risk factors that scientists have identified include:
- Age: People of any age can get Multiple Sclerosis. However, it is most common in people between 20 and 40 years of age, with the average age of onset being 30 to 33 years.
- Gender: Women are about twice as likely to get Multiple Sclerosis as men.
- Genetics: There is a strong genetic component to Multiple Sclerosis, although the exact markers are not yet known. Essentially, if your child, parent, or sibling has Multiple Sclerosis, you have a 10% chance of also having it. And if your identical twin has MS, your chance of having it is about 25%. However, it is important to remember that Multiple Sclerosis is not directly passed from parent to child. Rather, it is a polygenic condition, which means that someone with MS has a combination of genes that contributed to it.
- Geography: It has been postulated that those getting regular exposure to sunlight are less at risk of MS than those who don’t get much sun. This is because scientists have observed that people have a higher chance of getting MS in temperate climates than in tropical ones.
- Pollution: Some research suggests that prolonged exposure to air pollution or toxins such as organic solvents can increase one’s risk of getting MS. This is because air pollution can potentially trigger oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Race: Caucasian people, especially those of Northern European descent, have the highest risk of getting MS. The risk is lowest for those of Asian, African, or Native American descent.
- Autoimmune conditions: Those who have autoimmune conditions like thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, or inflammatory bowel disease are at a slightly higher risk of getting Multiple Sclerosis.
- Viral infections: There are certain infections, such as the human herpes virus-6 (HHV-6) and the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), that have been shown to establish chronic infections and affect the immune system, causing inflammation and myelin degradation. The link between Epstein-Barr and Multiple Sclerosis, in particular, is very strong. EBV can lie dormant in the body for years after a person contracts it, and can affect both B cells and T cells in various ways to trigger myelin degradation.
- Molecular mimicry: This is a phenomenon by which certain bacteria or viruses that resemble the cells in the brain or the spinal cord can lead to negative immune system reactions. The immune system may wrongly identify the normal myelin sheaths as foreign bodies and work to destroy them. HHV-6 and EBV have proteins that mimic myelin basic protein and can lead to immune system dysfunction.
- Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as non-smokers.
- Obesity: There is some research to show that having been obese during childhood or adolescence can increase one’s chances of having MS.
How to prevent Multiple Sclerosis
Close relatives of Multiple Sclerosis patients are likely to have questions about how to prevent MS. There is currently no guaranteed treatment that can guard against Multiple Sclerosis. However, there are several lifestyle modifications that can reduce one’s risk of getting it. These include:
- Getting adequate vitamin D: Vitamin D is a vital contributor to healthy immune system functioning. Studies have shown that people can halve their risk of getting Multiple Sclerosis just by getting some daily sunlight. Doctors recommend that adults, particularly immediate relatives of those with MS, get around 5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. They can also take vitamin D supplements, as can children. Pregnant women should take vitamin D3 supplements regularly.
- Eating a diet low in saturated fat: Doctors recommend that Multiple Sclerosis patients eat a mostly plant-based diet that is low in saturated fat. While there is no strong evidence that following the same diet is effective for MS prevention in relatives of patients, it can certainly help prevent multiple chronic conditions and boost overall health. Sharing a diet can also improve overall wellbeing and bonding with the patient, especially for spouses. Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while minimizing processed foods and saturated fats.
- Exercising regularly: While exercise cannot directly prevent Multiple Sclerosis, it does keep you fit and boost your cardiovascular health and overall wellbeing, which means that your immune system is stronger.
- Managing your stress levels: Some studies have shown that a reduction in stress levels can lower one’s chance of getting Multiple Sclerosis. There are several ways you can naturally reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, or massages.
- Quitting smoking: This is highly recommended to stave off all kinds of serious illnesses and not just MS prevention.
- Drinking coffee / red wine: Some studies have shown that the risk of Multiple Sclerosis is lower in people who drank over 30 ounces of coffee per day. Another study conducted on mice showed that the compound resveratrol (found in red wine) had anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, which can potentially help restore the myelin sheath. However, too much of either can have other negative health effects, so incorporate these in moderation.
What vitamins prevent Multiple Sclerosis?
Studies over the years have demonstrated that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can reduce one’s risk of getting Multiple Sclerosis.
What foods prevent MS?
Doctors recommend eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in fruits and vegetables to reduce one’s risk of autoimmune diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, berries, and fatty oily fish are particularly recommended.
What increases your risk of MS?
Some of the risk factors that doctors have identified for MS include having low levels of vitamin D, having certain autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes, being Caucasian, and having a parent or sibling who has MS.
Are bananas good for MS?
Bananas are rich in biotin, a type of vitamin B that can help with some of the symptoms in MS patients.
What is the best exercise for Multiple Sclerosis?
Therapists recommend that MS patients engage in a mix of strength training, stretching, and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for optimum benefits.
Can low vitamin D cause Multiple Sclerosis?
Studies have shown that those diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. However, there is no evidence to claim that vitamin D deficiency causes Multiple Sclerosis.
Is B12 deficiency a symptom of MS?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms that are similar to those of Multiple Sclerosis, including fatigue, numbness, and tingling.
Is magnesium good for MS?
Some studies have shown that magnesium plays an important role in developing and stabilizing the myelin sheath, which MS damages.
How much vitamin D should I take for Multiple Sclerosis?
For patients with Multiple Sclerosis, doctors recommend taking around 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Is turmeric good for MS patients?
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it ideal for joint pain management, a common symptom among MS patients.
Can you take vitamin C with MS?
There is some evidence to show that taking more than 2000mg of vitamin C may be harmful for patients with MS.
Can weather affect MS?
Many Multiple Sclerosis patients feel their symptoms get worse in hot or humid weather, or if it is extremely cold.
In short, there are several complex factors that interact to increase one’s likelihood of Multiple Sclerosis, and research still continues on the exact casualties. While there is no direct way to prevent Multiple Sclerosis, having a solid understanding of the risk factors and potential causal links can help you gauge your likelihood of getting it. Overall, by exercising regularly, spending enough time outdoors, and eating a nutritious diet, you can boost your immunity and reduce your risk of getting all kinds of conditions, including Multiple Sclerosis.