Multiple Sclerosis – Risk Factors, Causes and Preventative Measures Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune disease that damages the central nervous system – which includes the brain and the spinal cord. It is a result of an inflammation and it attacks the myelin sheath, the protecting layer around the nerve fibers. Scar tissue may form and it affects the electrical impulses traveling along the nerve fiber, distorting the communication coming from and to the central nervous system (MedlinePlus 2016). It can affect our vision, balance, muscle control and strength (MedlinePlus 2016). If not detected early, MS may progress over time and lead to disability or death in the future. Etiology of MS still remains unclear, however, it is hypothesized that the immune system in MS patients attacks the central nervous system. The immune system normally helps to fight off infections, but in MS, the immune system mistakes the myelin sheath for a foreign body and attacks it (MayoClinic 2016). Researchers do not know what triggers it, but they do believe it is a combination of factors. The risk factors associated with this disease can vary from person to person, but research has been done suggesting that lifestyle, viruses, environment and genetic factors may be implicated in the development of MS (MayoClinic 2016; MSSC 2016). Genetic factors do not play a significantly role in MS. However, it is believed that those who have relatives with MS might have a slightly higher risk of developing MS; as it may be inherited from past generations (MedlinePlus 2016). Age also plays a role, most MS patients are diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40, and it is more likely to occur in Caucasian women (MedlinePlus 2016). In terms of environment factors, it appears to be more common in populations farther away from the equator, where the sunlight exposure is lower (Willer et al. 2005). The article by Willer et al. (2005) shows that those born in May appear to have the highest risk of developing MS, than those born in November, who seem to have the lowest risk of developing the disorder. Multiple Sclerosis – Risk Factors, Causes and Preventative Measures Based on a study, it was found that there is a link between duration and intensity of sunlight with MS risk. Higher latitudes are associated with lower levels of vitamin D (Willer et al. 2005). Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and childhood, may affect the development of the immune system (Willer et al. 2005). Babies born in May are in utero during the colder months, while November babies are in the gestational stages during the warmer months. Babies born in May were found to have lower levels of vitamin D and higher levels of potentially harmful immune cells and potentially greater risk of MS (Willer et al. 2005). A research was conducted suggesting vitamin D may lessen the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MSSC 2016). Vitamin D is an essential nutrient produced by our body when exposed to sunlight. Sun exposure may offer protection from MS (MSSC 2016). It also regulates the immune system and can repair the damaged nervous tissue by increasing the number of production of neural stem cells (MSSC 2016). As we know, smoking causes serious health problems. It increases the chances of developing MS; as it may cause the disease to progress more rapidly (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis 2016). The Nurses’ Health Study in 2001 found there was 1.6 times greater chance of getting MS for current smokers; and 1.2 times greater for past smokers than for women who have not smoked (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis 2016). Additionally, obesity is linked to increase the risk of MS (Living Like You 2016). Researchers explained this association by proposing that leptin promotes inflammatory responses in the body (Living Like You 2016). Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) appears to trigger MS (NMS 2016). Although it still remains unclear where it directly causes the disease, it has been discovered that those with higher levels of EVB antibodies are at higher risk of developing MS than those who do not (NMS 2016). Multiple Sclerosis – Risk Factors, Causes and Preventative Measures Most of the risk factors are uncontrollable, but there is ways MS can be minimized. Such as, changing some of our lifestyle choices. These include nutritional changes, such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis 2016). A healthy balanced diet is extremely important and omega-3 oils are associated with lower rates of MS. Exercise is also known to help lessen the progression of MS. (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis 2016). Although risk factors and causes of MS are still not fully understood, progression is being made in regards to the understanding of MS. Researchers are still uncertain what damages the myelin sheath in our nerve fibers and some questions remain unanswered in regards to its causes and prevention. Further research needs to be done to determine some preventive measures, but meanwhile, there are some things we can do to reduce the risk of developing MS. References Living Like You. [23 September 2016]. Available from: http://www.livinglikeyou.com/en/stories/detail/Can-You-Prevent-Multiple-SclerosisHow-Certain-Lifestyle-Choices-Impact-Ri Mayo- Mayo Clinic. [23 September 2016]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/multiple-sclerosis/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20131903 Medline Plus. [23 September 2016]. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000737.htm MSSC- Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. [23 September 2016]. Available from: https://mssociety.ca/ NMSS – National Multiple Sclerosis Society. [27 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/ Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. [23 September 2016]. Available from: https://overcomingms.org/ms-a-to-z/ms-encyclopedia/ Willer, C. J., Dyment, D. A., Sadovnick, A. D., Rothwell, P. M., Murray, T. J. and Ebers, G. C. Timing of birth and risk of multiple sclerosis: population based study. BMJ: British Medical Journal. 330, 120-123 (2005).