Possible Lifestyle Factors

If you’ve been diagnosed with MS, you may be wondering whether your lifestyle (what you ate, how much exercise you got, whether you got enough sun) may have caused your MS. Currently, there is no simple explanation for why a person develops MS.

Epidemiologic and genetic studies suggest that MS results from a combination of factors, including environmental factors, such as where you live or whether you’ve been exposed to some yet unknown infectious agent or toxin, genetic factors (a gene or genes that make a person more susceptible to an autoimmune response), and immunologic factors. There is agreement among experts that MS develops because a combination of these factors work together to make a person more susceptible to the disease.

Vitamin D is important.

We know that high vitamin D levels during younger years tend to lower the risk of a person developing MS. Although we can get vitamin D through our diets, our bodies make vitamin D naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight. This is why people who grow up and live closer to the equator, where there is greater sun exposure, tend to have lower risk for MS.

It may also be true that just by getting outdoors for more time and increasing your exposure to the sun—even if you live far from the equator—may help lower your risk for MS. There is also evidence that getting extra vitamin D via a daily multivitamin may also lower your risk of developing MS.

Diet may be important.

There is evidence that what you eat may influence your susceptibility for MS. Various studies suggest that this may be true. For example, it has been suggested that the very low risk of MS among Inuits living in the Arctic may be because they consume large amounts of fish.

Smoking may increase risk.

Results from some studies suggest that cigarette smoking may increase your chances of developing MS, and, if you have MS, that smoking may increase the risk that your disease will progress. Researchers are not sure why this may be true, but this is certainly another good reason why you should avoid smoking.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2015.
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