Approximately 107,000 people live with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the UK, according to the MS Society. In other words, about one in every 600 has MS. More than 80% of MS patients develop progressive disability. 40% require a wheelchair within a decade of diagnosis.1 But while researchers have made remarkable progress developing new drugs for some MS patients, a cure remains elusive.
Even the cause remains enigmatic. Numerous genes seem to influence MS risk. But the number of MS cases is rising more rapidly than genetic changes can explain, increasing by about 2.4% annually between 1990 and 2010 in the UK.2 So, researchers are searching for clues in our lifestyles and environment.
In 1974, for example, P Goldberg, a researcher working at the Polaroid Corporation in the USA, suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency and MS. The role of vitamin D remains an active area of research. But since then, studies have also associated a growing number risk factors with MS, including Epstein-Barr virus, cigarette smoking and the Western diet.1,3 This summarises some recent findings that offer new insights into the causes of MS and raise the prospect of new approaches to management.
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