Why Do So Many People In Saskatchewan Get Multiple Sclerosis?

According to a story from CBC News, doctors are beginning to research the mystery behind the unusually high prevalence of multiple sclerosis among the people of Saskatchewan in Canada. To begin, the scientists are looking at the blood of people from the region in order to obtain their first clues.
The researchers have quite a major task on their hands. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the myelin sheath, and insulating cover that surrounds nerve cells, are damaged or destroyed. You can learn more about MS by clicking here.

The cause of MS is still not well understood, and the condition has some unusual geographic trends in prevalence. The condition is most common in people from northern Europe. As a whole, the disease is more common in people further away from the equator, but there are some notable exceptions to this rule. For example, Palestinians, Sardinians, and Sicilians are more likely to get the disease. Many indigenous groups that are far from the equator, such as the Inuit and Maori, have a lower risk. There are also some genetic variations that appear to increase the risk.

A recent survey indicated the Saskatchewan may have among the highest rate of MS in the world, affecting one in 300 people. By comparison, the disease affects one in 1000 people in the US. A potential factor could be exposure to sunlight. Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, so people who are not regularly exposed have less of the vitamin and a higher likelihood of MS. Researchers hope that further analysis will reveal ‘hotspots’ of disease prevalence in the region. This should help researchers compare the environmental characteristics of hotspot areas and low prevalence areas in order to help determine possible risk factors.

Dr. Michael Levin, who is leading the ongoing research, says that he also hopes to find ways to reduce the time period between the onset of symptoms and the initial diagnosis of MS. This would result in patients getting treatment earlier, which would help stave off the worst disease symptoms. Perhaps Levin’s research will help unravel the poorly understood nature of MS once and for all.

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