No one is exactly a fan of stress. Those affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS) have always been led to believe stress in general would make flare ups worse and increased, as MS severely affects the brain and spinal cord by slowing down communications. However a new study shows no real evidence of a link between stress and the contraction or prevalence of the disease’s symptoms particularly in women. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that about 400,000 people in the U.S. have MS.

The study included a first group of about 93,000 nurses who were also given a questionnaire about their levels of stress at home and at work. The second group of about 68,500 nurses filled out questionnaires about physical and sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence, another huge cause of stress obviously both physical and mental.

As of 2004 to 2005, 77 women in the first group and 292 in the second had been diagnosed with MS and responded to questionnaires about stress. Keep in mind that MS is typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

Forty four percent of all women said in their questionnaire that they experienced moderate stress at work, compared to 39% of women with MS. Severe stress at work was reported by 11% of all women and 5% of the MS group in particular. A history of extensive physical abuse did not appear to make women any more likely to get MS.

The report concludes:

“These results do not support a major role of stress in the development of the disease, but repeated and more focused measures of stress are needed to firmly exclude stress as a potential risk factor for MS.”

One limitation of the study was that it only included female nurses, so the findings may not apply to men. Multiple sclerosis is twice as likely to occur in Caucasians as in any other group. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by multiple sclerosis earlier in life.

Female hormones estrogen and progesterone affect much more than a woman’s reproductive system. It is thought they may also influence the immune and nervous systems, and, some scientists believe that they play a role in MS, though research has yet to show what this role might be. There have been no large scale studies in this area, and more research is needed to see if the endocrine system is abnormal in people who have MS.

The true cause of multiple sclerosis is still unknown. In the last 20 years, researchers have focused on disorders of the immune system and genetics for explanations. If triggered by an aggressor or foreign object, the immune system mounts a defensive action which identifies and attacks the invader and then withdraws.

In multiple sclerosis, researchers suspect that a foreign agent such as a virus alters the immune system so that the immune system perceives myelin as an intruder and attacks it. The attack by the immune system on the tissues that it is supposed to protect is called autoimmunity, and multiple sclerosis is believed to be a disease of autoimmunity.

Source: The Journal of Neurology

Written by Sy Kraft