Shining A Light on a dark disease
Multiple Sclerosis : The Invisible Enemy
So why do people get MS in the first place? Is it a genetic disease that is passed down though family DNA? Is it caused by something that a person was exposed to in the environment? The problem is that no one REALLY knows. Researchers and doctors have been studying these questions for years and although they are beginning to to learn more, the answer is is still somewhat of a mystery. At the current time, when deciding if the cause of multiple sclerosis is nature or nurture, the response from health professionals is..... "probably both".
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The Genetic Component
Studies have found that incidences of MS are increased within families, People with parents who have the disease are 12% more likely to get it. Siblings, especially twins, have the highest association in all situations. The best explanation for this comes from the research done on a specific chromosome in the body which encompasses genes for immune responses. This 4-megabase region contains approximately 160 closely linked genes. About half of these genes have important roles in the regulation of the immune system, and include the six classical Human Leucocyte Antigen (HLA) genes. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470155/).
If these immune response genes are in our DNA, then it makes sense that that any immune response "mistake" could be passed down in families.
Because our genetics don't tell the whole story, Doctors have looked into our environmental exposures to fill in the gaps. Perhaps these genetic responses are only triggered when certain outside factors are introduced. It has been suggested that contracting Epstein Barr virus during teenage years, may increase the likelihood of developing MS. The strongest epidemiological evidence to date that EBV may be causally related to MS showed that MS occurs only after a primary EBV infection (https://www.nationalmssociety.org/For-Professionals/Clinical-Care/About-MS/Interaction-of-Genetics-and-the-Environment/Genetics)
Other factors, such as a Vitamin D deficiency, smoking (including second hand smoke) and obesity in childhood, are also considered possible "triggering" influences.