Unless you actually suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) or have a close friend or relative who does, you probably know next to nothing about the disease. You might have heard that it has to do with the brain and that it can be pretty debilitating. Maybe you picture someone who’s paralyzed or in a wheelchair, but you’re not sure if that’s accurate or if you might be at risk. (The Power Nutrient Solution is the first-ever plan that tackles the root cause of virtually every major ailment and health condition today.)
MS can be confusing and mysterious, but we’re going to try to clear up some of the confusion with these seven facts.
1. No one knows what causes it.
Multiple sclerosis is a quirky autoimmune disorder that attacks the insulation protecting the nerves in the brain and spinal cord and ends up targeting the eyes and limbs. About 400,000 Americans have it.
There’s no known cause, but genetics definitely play a role: You have a 3 to 4% chance of developing it if one of your parents had it. And if you have an identical twin with MS, your chance of getting it goes up to 30%. People of Northern European descent are most apt to get it.
Another risk factor is having had mononucleosis. Research shows that people who’ve had the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis) have a higher risk of MS. One recent study, published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis, found that the risk of MS was highest in people under age 26 who carried antibodies for the Epstein-Barr virus.
2. It hits when you’re in your prime.
MS is the No. 1 cause of neurological disability in young people. “The average age of onset is 25 to 30, so we suspect there’s a relationship between peak fertility, hormones, and the immune system,” says Tanuja Chitnis, MD, an associate professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Interestingly, women who have it suffer 70% fewer attacks during pregnancy, though it’s common to relapse soon after giving birth.
Women are twice as likely as men to have MS, but when men do develop MS it’s often more severe.
3. The symptoms can be wide-ranging.
MS is different in everyone. In some people, it inflames the optic nerve and causes a short spate of double vision. (Here are 10 things your eyes say about you.) Other times it attacks the limbs and weakens the legs.
There’s also a lot of variety in the severity of symptoms. Some patients might have an MS attack, get treated, and then be perfectly fine (at least for a while). Others will deteriorate more quickly.
4. It’s not fatal.
MS itself is unlikely to kill you. Most patients have a normal life expectancy and eventually die from something completely unrelated (such as heart disease or cancer). But it can certainly take a toll on your life and ability to function, which can lead to depression; suicide rates are higher than average in people with MS.
5. Symptoms tend to disappear and reappear—sometimes years later.
There are four types of multiple sclerosis, but 85% of patients have the relapsing-remitting variation. It’s not unusual to have a flare-up that lasts a few days or weeks, followed by what seems like a complete recovery. “People come in and they’re wondering, ‘How can I be perfectly healthy and then have these attacks and lesions on my brain?’ ” says Farrah Mateen, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. (This also makes MS hard to diagnose.)
That said, the disease does tend to worsen with age, because as you get older the nervous system isn’t able to repair itself as well. Many people have relapsing-remitting MS that turns into a more rapidly progressing form 10 to 20 years later.
6. You won’t necessarily end up in a wheelchair.
MS often impacts mobility, but don’t assume you’ll become totally disabled. About two-thirds of patients don’t need a wheelchair even 20 years after they were first diagnosed. A cane or crutches might offer all the help you need, though some people who get tired easily or have balance problems may turn to an electric scooter or wheelchair.
7. There’s no cure—yet.
“I like to tell my patients that we don’t have a working fire extinguisher, but we have a lot of great smoke alarms,” says Mateen. Right now there are many pills, infusions, and injectable drugs that can reduce the chance of a relapse by half.
Getting adequate vitamin D has also been shown to protect against MS (the disease is much more common in Canada and the northern half of the US than it is in southern states) and help keep symptoms in check. Chitnis tells patients to take a vitamin D supplement, as well as a coenzyme Q10 supplement: Research has shown that people with MS who take 500 mg/day of CoQ10 have significantly less inflammation in just 12 weeks.
As for a cure, it’s not just a pipe dream: MS research is very well funded, which is why there have been enormous advances in treatment over the past 20 years. “We’re really starting to see how MS progresses, how neurons degenerate, and how to protect them,” says Chitnis. “Our understanding grows by leaps and bounds all the time, and I fully believe a cure is possible in my lifetime.”