The causes of MS are largely unknown. MS is most likely a multifactorial condition, which means that it involves a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.
Many environmental factors have been proposed to possibly contribute to MS. Some of these factors include infections, environmental and industrial toxins, diet, and trace metal exposures. The associations, however, between these factors and MS remain inconclusive and unclear.
Some MS research is focused on the possible relationship between MS and sunlight exposure. When the body is exposed to sunlight, it naturally produces vitamin D. Therefore, people who live closer to the equator are exposed to greater amounts of sunlight and tend to have naturally higher vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is believed to have a beneficial impact on immune function and may therefore, help protect against MS.
It is currently well established that MS also runs in some families. Researchers believe that there are probably a number of genes that cause susceptibility to MS as well as influence the severity and progression of the disease. Families in which there are multiple affected, close relatives may have a stronger genetic component.
We recommend that you speak with your child's physician regarding his family history. You may also benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor who can review the family history and provide a more accurate risk assessment. You can find a genetic counselor at the National Society of Genetic Counselors website or through companies like mine, AccessDNA.
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