Research has shown that environmental factors play a significant role in your susceptibility to MS. For people with the 'right' genetic background – those predisposed to developing MS because of a strong family genetic tendency – certain environmental factors increase the risk of developing MS. At present it is felt that genes contribute 25% to your overall MS risk, while environment makes up 75%. Your genes are not your fate.
Of course, there are many environmental factors that you have no control over, especially as a child. But there is still a lot we can do to prevent people from getting MS.
The environmental influences include:
1. Low levels of vitamin D while still in utero
Unborn babies receive vitamin D from their mothers. Your skin can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or you can consume vitamin D by taking supplements, eating oily fish or fortified breakfast cereals or by taking supplements.
Research has shown that being exposed to low levels of vitamin D in the womb may be associated with a higher risk of developing MS later in life.
2. Low levels of sun exposure during childhood (particularly in winter and ages 6-15)
Vitamin D is known to protect against MS. Low levels of sun exposure during childhood and early adolescence is associated with a higher risk of developing MS.
In general, the further from the equator, the more common MS is. However, prevalence rates can differ among different ethnic groups living in the same country, regardless of distance from the equator. For example, the Inuit living in the Arctic have very low rates of MS despite their very low levels of sun exposure. This is partly felt to be due to their high consumption of oily fish, giving them vital extra vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
3. High cow’s milk consumption as a child and adolescent
Cow’s milk consumption has been linked to MS for a long time by numerous researchers.
The immune cells of a person with MS can target proteins in dairy (butyrophilin and MOG) , as their structure closely resembles that of myelin. In someone with MS, dairy consumption can be likened to further “pouring petrol on a bonfire”.
Dairy products are also a major contributor to the saturated fat in many people’s diet. There is clear evidence for the link between saturated fat intake and the risk of development and progression of MS.
This is why the OMS diet suggests avoiding cow’s milk.
4. High body-mass index during adolescence
A high body-mass index during adolescence (over childhood) is also associated with an increased risk of developing MS. If you have a genetic predisposition to MS and are obeses as a teenager it has been shown to increase your risk of MS by as much as 16 times that of the general population.
This provides another reason for public health initiatives to concentrate on lowering obesity rates.
5. Smoking (including passive smoking)
Cigarette smoking causes a wealth of serious health problems and is a primary cause of preventable death. It also increases the risk of developing MS and is a factor in the progression of MS.
Smoking doubles your risk of MS
Smokers progress to secondary progressive MS 4 times faster than non-smokers
Passive smoking doubles your risk of MS
Smokers have a 90% increased risk of mobility issues in MS
Smokers may not get the full effects of an MS recovery program
6. High saturated fat diet
MS has also been linked to a diet in high saturated fat, and it is known that diets with higher intakes are associated with increased relapses and disability over time.
Saturated fats are also closely associated with cardiovascular disease and some cancers, so reducing your intake makes sense for your overall health.
Many studies have shown that many people who have been diagnosed with MS have been exposed to high levels of stress in the weeks or months before the onset of symptoms, and that stressful events can precipitate new or worsen old symptoms.