Skip to main content
Family walking together in field holding hands

Family health: Are family members at risk of MS?

Children and close family members of people living with MS are at an increased risk of developing MS themselves, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce their overall risk.

Family health – pillar of the Overcoming MS Program

The Family Health pillar is a key part of the Overcoming MS Program. There is a genetic element to MS, which means that children, siblings and other relatives of people with MS are at a greater risk of developing it, too.

The general population only has about a 1 in 330 chance of developing MS, although this figure varies significantly from region to region. 

  • If you have an identical twin with MS, you have a 25% chance of developing it too.
  • If you have a sibling, parent or are the child of someone with MS, your chance of developing it is about 1 in 10.
Multi-generational family lying down

How to protect family members

These lifestyle adjustments are likely to help protect relatives of people with MS who do not show signs of MS:

  1. Get regular exposure to sunlight
  2. Take daily vitamin D supplements (adjusted for weight of child)
  3. Stop smoking
  4. Eat a low-saturated fat diet
  5. Take omega-3 fatty acid supplements
  6. Learn how to handle stress better, for example, through meditation and mindfulness

Please share this information to help your family. Remember, these changes will also help prevent other chronic conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Group on a beach in the sunshine

Ensure family members get enough vitamin D

In the US Nurses Health Study, those that took even a low dose of vitamin D had around half the risk of MS, and there are similar data for quitting smoking.

Overcoming MS believes doctors must advise people with MS of these important avenues to protect children and other relatives.

Dosage – We recommend that close adult relatives of people with MS take 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day in winter (and in summer when sun exposure is limited), suitably reduced for children.

During pregnancy – Vitamin D supplementation should be routine in pregnancy, as folic acid is. Children are never too young to begin vitamin D supplements; ideally, they should start in the womb.

 

Family following the Overcoming MS diet

While the evidence around whether dietary changes reduce the risk of family members developing MS is limited, it may make sense for you to strongly consider a healthier diet anyway. It is known that following a healthier diet with more fruits, vegetables and whole foods and less animal products, processed foods and saturated fat is important in preventing many other chronic health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Research has demonstrated many beneficial effects for partners of people with MS who adopt lifestyle modification including their health and well-being. 

Also, if you are living with a family member who has MS, they need to be following a plant-based diet that is low in saturated fat. It is easier to cook one meal for the family than cook several meals each day.

For more information on the Overcoming MS Diet, please click here.