A person’s genes influence the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), but so does the environment — both that in which an MS patient lives, and that which a patient creates through diet and other lifestyle choices, researchers said in a Thursday session at the 34th congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) underway in Berlin.
Heritability, in fact, is a known driver of relative risk in MS, accounting for about 64 percent of all cases, said Ali Manouchehrinia, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, while discussing the presentation “Environmental and Lifestyle Factors.”
But exactly how such relative risk translates into disease isn’t clear or well-understood.
In contrast, factors like sunlight and subsequent vitamin D absorption that geography makes available, are clear looking at any colored chart of MS cases by country, Manouchehrinia noted. Increasing evidence also suggests that exposure to organic solvents and the inflammation they cause can raise MS risk 10 times — almost as high as that of being a current smoker (13 times higher risk).
There’s also evidence linking the disease to systemic insults like infection with Epstein-Barr virus or mononucleosis, obesity in adolescence, night shift work, and a host of other things that make up daily life.
“Our genetic structure has not changed, but our environment has changed a lot,” Manouchehrinia said, and there’s “growing evidence of environmental factors in disease.”
Salt, a dietary additive that now underlies almost everything making up the so-called Western diet, probably is among the most intriguing of “Emerging Risk Factors,” said Ralf Linker, PhD, a professor in the neurology department of Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, in a talk of the same title.
Obesity, vitamin D, smoking, and other environmental factors are considered emerging risks, Linker said, but one coming more into view is salt — the amount of sodium chloride people consume in the foods they eat, especially as food worldwide becomes more and more processed.
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