When I was newly diagnosed I obsessed over what had caused my Multiple Sclerosis. Was it something I ate? Was it something I didn't eat? Was it something I drank? Was I a bad person? Was it in my genes? Was it stress? What did I do wrong? The questions were torturous and never-ending. Aside from wishing to reduce the odds of my children and my sibling's children developing MS, these days when people talk of the possible causes I don't pay much attention; in fact I'd go as far as to say I have a distinct lack of interest. You see, having spent my early MS days googling the causes it very soon became apparent that many of the theories were pretty farcical if not plain ridiculous.
However, I thought it may be time to revisit the various ideas that researchers, scientists, doctors and mind & body specialists have come up with in recent years; if for no other reason than to have a good laugh, which we all know is beneficial to our health...
I'll start with the most commonly cited causes, those that may actually hold a valid link to this often baffling disease:
1. It's in the genes. Over 100 genes have so far had the blame laid on them. I have no idea which genes they are or even what name genes may go by, but I do know that I share some genes with someone who also has MS: my paternal aunt. Over the years I've found myself trying to pinpoint our similarities, which rogue genes do we both possess? The only obvious similarities are the fact that we both wear glasses, we're both pretty fair skinned, we're both highly intelligent (she's a doctor, I'm a blogger) and we both like films. Hmm, sounds like a recipe for MS to me.
2. The equator is too far away. I'm kinda bored with this one, but the general idea is that MS becomes much denser the further away people live from the equator. Britain, and in particular Scotland, has some of the highest rates of MS in the world. Which leads me to point No. 3.
3. Pop some Vit D. Vitamin D does so much good for our bodies, amongst other things it enhances the immune system and is, I think, almost certainly one of the key causes to take seriously. In the UK we don't get enough vitamin D from the sun between September and March and there's a good chance most of us are running low on D if not completely deficient in the stuff. This is a HUGE subject and one that warrants a whole post to itself. Watch this space.
4. Are you infected? The Epstein Barr Virus is often blamed for MS. It's the infection that causes Glandular Fever, an illness that many MSers are thought to have previously had - although I've not. At school we called it 'The Kissing Disease', perhaps that's why I swore I'd never have a boyfriend.
5. Smoking. The scapegoat of everything.
6. A chubby childhood. Like smoking, obesity has a lot to answer for including, of course, MS. If you were obese as a child or young adult your chances of developing MS skyrocket. Again, as with smoking, I cannot place the blame here; one of my nicknames as a child was 'Stick'.
7. Cats are a woman's best friend. In 2014 a Norwegian study found that people who had been exposed to cats during their childhood were less likely to develop MS. This is particularly fascinating to me as I sit here stroking my No. 7 cat.
8. Heavy Metal vs Pop. Exposure to too much metal can cause long-term health problems including, you guessed it, MS. Likewise excessive consumption of the fizzy stuff can fry your brain. Aspartame, found in diet fizzy drinks, is a proven culprit. Interestingly I went cold turkey on all soda, including the most deadly of them all - Diet Coke, a whole 6 years prior to having MS. I have officially been Soda Sober for 14 years and counting.
9. The meatiest theory of them all. So basically, if you eat a lot of red meat you're asking to have MS. Sounds far fetched? On the surface maybe. Delve a little deeper and you'll find some compelling evidence to suggest that consuming red meat on a daily basis can be very harmful to your body. Through evolution humans have lost the ability to produce Neu5Gc, a compound still found in animals such as pigs and cows. Evidence through autopsy reveal that humans consume Neu5Gc when they eat red meat, which is damaging to our bodies as we are no longer designed to deal with it. The effect of this is that our guts make antibodies against it, which in turn causes inflammation. The unwanted tissues are often found in the blood-brain-barrier - the main battlefield of MS. The tissue is also found in the axons of nerve cells.
10. It's all in your head - literally. Does MS actually belong to the family of psychosomatic conditions that now proliferate our lives? A controversial theory that shouldn't be written off so easily.
So, what DOESN'T cause MS? The answer, according to experts, is WINE. It's true! A 2016 study carried out by the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Sweden showed that drinking could actually lower your risk of developing MS as it REDUCES inflammation in the body. And coming from the country that brought us Abba, I don't see how this could possibly be disputed.