The link between obesity and multiple sclerosis

Obesity is a global epidemic and a major culprit behind many chronic health problems (eg, heart disease and diabetes). In fact, research has found that obesity in childhood and adolescence can contribute to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) – and this finding is critical, as it implies some control over this notoriously unpredictable neurological disease.

Let’s take a look at the research supporting the link between obesity and the pathogenesis of MS, and perhaps more importantly, what this means for us, our children, and the future of MS.

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Study: Obesity Increases Your Risk of Developing MS

The following studies suggest that obesity at a young age increases a person’s risk of developing MS.

A Denmark studywhich was based on more than 300,000 children born between 1930 and 1983, found that people with a body mass index of the 95th percentile or higher were 70 percent more likely to develop MS than those with a body mass index of less than the 85th percentile .

Keep in mind that body mass index (BMI) is a calculation of a person’s body fat, based on their height and weight. While not perfect, it is a good estimate of your body size whether you are underweight (less than 18.5), normal weight (18.5 to 24.9), overweight (25.0 to 29.9) or obesity (above 30.0).

In the future, another very large study in the United States found that women with a body mass index of thirty or higher by age 18 had a more than twofold risk of developing MS compared to skinny women. (Interestingly, this study found no association between large childhood body size and an increased risk of developing MS).

Finally a third study in the neurology of nearly 600 children, found that being overweight increases a child’s risk of developing pediatric MS. Pediatric multiple sclerosis makes up about 5 percent of all MS diagnoses.

Also Read:  Does Being Overweight Cause Diabetes?

Why Obesity Increases Your MS Risk?

Scientists are still figuring out why obesity in early life (especially adolescence) increases a person’s risk of developing MS.

Vitamin D deficiency

Some experts suspect that vitamin D deficiency may be the mediating culprit.

Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is primarily produced by the skin when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

While not everything has become clear yet, here are two possible reasons why obesity may predispose to vitamin D deficiency:

    The skin area of ​​obese people does not increase in proportion to their weight change – so their skin cannot produce enough vitamin D for their body size. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be sequestered or hidden in adipose tissue

Regardless of why obese people are prone to vitamin D deficiency, we know that vitamin D deficiency in itself is associated with the development of MS in both adults and children.

Vitamin D deficiency can also negatively impact your MS disease activity (that is, cause MS relapses), which is why most MS specialists ensure adequate vitamin D levels in their patients.

Obesity-related inflammation

In the future, in addition to the obesity/vitamin D deficiency cycle, other experts suspect that the release of certain cell signaling proteins (called adipokines) from adipose tissue in obese individuals may modulate the immune system to promote the development of MS.

One such adipokine, called leptin, has been found to be significantly higher in people with MS compared to those without MS. Although, as with vitamin D, exactly how the factors obesity/leptin/MS are intertwined is still a mystery.

What does this mean for me?

If you take a step back, keep in mind that early life obesity does not mean you will definitively develop MS. In fact, it is statistically likely that you will not develop MS. At the same time, just because you were a normal body size in childhood doesn’t mean you can’t develop MS.

The point here is that there is a link between the development of MS and obesity, but a link does not imply causation; rather, a link indicates that there is some kind of connection or association between these two conditions.

Also remember that in addition to environmental factors, such as obesity and vitamin D deficiency, genetics play an important role in the pathogenesis of MS. In other words, experts believe that a person must be genetically vulnerable to developing MS and then be exposed to one or more environmental factors that trigger the onset of MS. In addition to obesity and vitamin D deficiency, other possible environmental factors include infection with the Epstein-Barr virus and exposure to cigarette smoke.

Other Obesity/MS Compounds

Besides the fact that obesity in childhood and/or adolescence increases your risk of developing MS, there are other possible connections:

    Depression is common in MS and obesity can increase your risk of depression or vice versa (or both) Obesity is linked to many physical health problems (e.g. heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes and osteoarthritis), which can cause disability and MS-related symptoms, such as fatigue and pain Obesity represents a state of chronic low-grade inflammation, which can affect the course of your MS disease from having MS

Achieving a normal weight

If you or a loved one has MS, you may be concerned that your child will develop MS (the risk of a child developing MS if a parent has MS is about 3 to 5 percent, compared to 0.1 percent in the general population) .

Alternatively, you may be overweight or obese and want to get back to your normal weight to see if that will help your MS symptoms.

Regardless of motivation, it is important to gain and maintain a normal, healthy weight.

Here are a few tips to work your way around while embarking on a healthy weight plan:

    Try not to diet or limit food groups. Ultimately, this will likely backfire, as you will eventually fall into a craving and then possibly start eating that food. Instead, focus on moderation. Choose healthy, protein-rich snacks (e.g. peanut butter on whole grain crackers, a handful of nuts mixed with dried fruit (“trail mix”), string cheese or hummus with celery sticks Eat at your kitchen table, not in front of the TV or on the phone, which is almost always leads to overeating Talk to your healthcare provider about starting an exercise program and choose an exercise program that is enjoyable and sustainable for you, such as dancing or taking your dog for long, daily walks. limited by your MS-related fatigue, pain, or spasticity, try not to get discouraged Do what you can, such as doing arm exercises and lifting small weights Prepare your own meals and don’t buy junk food If those tasty but unhealthy treats aren’t in your pantry standing, you can’t go and grab them at a weak moment.

A word from TheHeavyPerson

No doubt about it – MS is a devastating neurological disease that tends to strike in the prime of young adulthood, when people think about marriage, children, and future career prospects.

However, the upside is that we are learning more and more about MS every day. As more information emerges, let’s take it in and stay resilient and as healthy as possible.

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