Steps to prevent MS in family members

If your parent, sibling or child has MS, you are at elevated risk of developing MS too, however making simple lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce your overall risk.

Lifestyle changes for preventing MS

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

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

Please share with anyone you think is at risk of developing MS.

Sun exposure & 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.

OMS 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.

Should family members also change their diet to prevent MS?

The evidence on whether dietary changes help is not so clear-cut. We strongly advise people with MS to follow a plant-based wholefood diet that is very low in saturated fat, but it is not clear that putting family members on the same diet will reduce their risk.

In The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, Professor Roy Swank writes that he placed all family members of people with MS on the same diet, regardless of their own MS status.

He tracked more than 3,500 people with MS, and not one of their relatives on the diet developed the disease, to his knowledge.

So should you change your 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 OMS Recovery Program diet, please click here.