The Holy Grail for MS researchers isn’t simply finding a cure for the disease, but discovering a way to prevent it in the first place. Because while it would be amazing to reverse the symptoms of this challenging autoimmune disease, never having them in the first place would be even better.
It’s the discovery of what causes MS in the first place that offers real hope. After all, understanding the triggers of the disease means that in the future we might be able to avoid them all together.
That’s the idea anyway. But the problem is that MS doesn’t appear to have any one single cause; no obvious gene people can be tested for, or bug that can be vaccinated against. Instead, it seems more likely that it’s caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors .
Identifying MS Triggers
Clearly, preventing such a complex disease is tricky. That said, researchers have identified several important risk factors for MS that could hold the key to prevention . Even if you already have MS, it’s still worth arming yourself with the facts, as lifestyle changes can help to reduce relapse rate, ease symptoms and even slow the progression of the disease.
A Vitamin D Pill for MS?
It’s now widely accepted that low vitamin D levels are linked with increased risk of developing MS . This makes sense considering vitamin D plays a key role in immune and nervous system function . It’s also the reason some experts believe vitamin D supplements could help to prevent MS.
What’s more, studies suggest that increased vitamin D levels are associated with reduced relapse rate as well as a lower degree of disability in people who already have MS, so this is something that’s definitely worth discussing with your doctor if you have MS.
The Search for An MS Vaccine
With no single bacteria or virus that triggers the disease, developing a vaccine that could prevent MS is tricky to say the least. Not that this has stopped scientists from trying to develop one. In fact there are a number of promising vaccines in the pipeline , and one of them has been around for years. A study found that patients who had the early signs of MS and were given the tuberculosis vaccine were significantly less likely to develop full-blown MS than those given a placebo . The research is still in its infancy, but regular doses of this vaccine might eventually become a routine preventative treatment for people in the early stages of MS and even people who’re at increased risk of developing the disease for genetic reasons.
Preventative Measures You Can Take Right Now
Prevention of MS isn’t just in the hands of the researchers. There are a number of lifestyle changes all of us can make to reduce our risk of developing the disease.
Just Say No To Cigarettes
Exposure to cigarette smoke appears to be a key environmental risk factor for MS, increasing the chances of developing the disease by one and a half times compared with non-smokers . The more you smoke, the higher your risk. By the way, if you have MS, there’s all the more reason to quit – a number of studies suggest smoking can cause the disease to progress more rapidly; it’s also associated with a greater risk of conversion from relapsing–remitting to secondary progressive MS .
Step on the scales
Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) is another way you can reduce your risk of developing MS. We know, for example, that being overweight (a BMI of more than 25) increases your chances of developing MS. One study, for instance, found that people who are obese at age 20 are twice as likely to develop MS later in life as people who are not obese . Interestingly we know that being obese can lower vitamin D levels, so the two may well be connected .
Increase Those Omega-3s
A healthy balanced diet is extremely important for keeping your weight in check, but it will also ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs for a healthy immune and nervous system. Studies show that countries that consume the most fish tend to have lower rates of MS, which some experts believe could be down to the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 oils. If you have MS already, it’s still worth upping your intake. Studies show that supplementation with omega-3 oils in people with MS is associated with reduced disease activity and progression to disability .
Hope For The Future
We might be a long way from wiping out MS altogether, but we’re definitely on the right track. Researchers are working on some exciting preventative measures that may help us in the future, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing MS in the meantime. After all, looking after your body is one of the best forms of disease prevention.