This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202
2001 Third Web Report
On Serendip

Multiple Sclerosis

Najah Johnson

(1) One third of a million Americans suffer from MS and a great percentage of those people are women. Women account for 73% of MS sufferers. (2) MS usually strikes young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. (8) There are even some cases of MS being diagnosed in childhood.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system, attacking the brain and the spinal cord. MS attacks myelin, the fatty material that acts as a protective coating to the body's nerves. (1) The inflammation of the nerve tissues covering the nerves can affect any part of the nervous system and varies from person to person. (7) Normal nerve function decreases with the onset of MS because MS causes scars to form on the covering of the nerve. Multiple Sclerosis acquires this term because it literally means scars. (1,7) The covering of the nerve with myelin is very important so that the nerve can transmit signals rapidly and efficiently. Demylelination enables the nerve to carry impulses properly by either blocking or slowing transmission and this is why the various symptoms of MS occur. (1)

Symptoms associated with Multiple sclerosis consist in a wide range. MS could cause a numbness of the limbs, loss of vision, or even paralysis. (2) There is no specific set of symptoms that a patient may experience because MS may have affected different parts of the nervous system. Some patients may experience a loss of balance, unstable walking, clumsiness, blurred vision, spasticity (a spring-like resistance to moving or being moved), abnormal speech, memory loss, impotence, and bladder problems are to name a few. (1) In any one patient the symptoms may vary with each attack. (7) The symptoms can last up to days or maybe months, they can go away or the patient can relapse periodically. All of the symptoms associated with MS are caused by the deterioration of the myelin that coats the nerves.

Therefore, what causes MS? What causes the nerves of the bodies of MS patients to obtain scarring? Why do people get MS? The cause of MS is not known. But is said not to be hereditary. The body's immune system usually defends it from bacteria, but in the case of MS the immune system is attacking the myelin. (1) This attack is adverse to the purpose of the immune system and the cause is attributed to different theories. The one theory is that there is a virus dormant in the body that may be a factor in the development of MS and alters the immune system's responsibility. (1)

Then there is the theory that common diseases or STD's trigger MS and this initiates the migration of white blood cells to enter the brain. Once in the brain these white blood cells activate certain parts of the immune system and thus the immune system begins to attack the myelin that surrounds the nerve. (1) There is another theory that the scarring of the myelin of the nerve is caused by oxidation injury. (3) Oxidation injury is seemingly caused by unstable molecules named free radicals. These free radicals supposedly take electrons from healthy molecules they find in the myelin. These free radicals are also said to occur when the body has been exposed to toxic chemicals. (5) Free radicals are described as punching holes in the cellular walls of our bodies. There is another theory that researchers of MS present. The onslaught of myelin by white blood cells is caused by a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is supposed to separate the blood cells and the myelin. (5)

If the blood brain barrier is damaged then that allows different toxins and bacteria to enter the blood stream and can thus cause injury to the myelin. Wouldn't repairing the blood-brain barrier help to "cure" MS? Could it not be prevented if there were a drug or something that people could take or a test to ensure their blood-brain barrier continued to act as a blockade? There is a test that is done by placing small electrodes on the head to monitor brain waves response to certain stimuli. If the response is not instantaneous then scarring of the nerve has probably taken place and the response is instead delayed. (1) If this is detected early before many areas of the nervous system became affected then maybe a remyelination process can take place. Patients suspected to have MS are tested usually after they have had a history of at least two attacks that seem to be triggered by a central nervous system dysfunction. Doctors examine for immobilization of certain parts of the body, abnormal pupil responses, and speech changes. (7) If these symptoms show to be present then the health care provider will run certain tests, one being an MRI. The MRI will show if there are any lesions on the brain of spinal cord. Maybe the progression of the disease could be decelerated if it were detected earlier. That's why I feel that early testing for scarring in the central nervous system. However, I do know that this type testing for every young adult would be very expensive. But just as there are yearly mammograms now given for free then I think there is a way to fund MS testing.

There is also the notion that MS may be associated with geographic location. There are more people in northern Europe, northern America, and New Zealand that have the disease than in any other regions of the world. MS is more common to people in countries that live farther from the equator. (7,8) I can only think that different environments differ on types of air breathed, the type of water they drink, climate, and food. These may be the reason behind the cause of the body's immune system to generate an unfavorable response to the human body. There has been found to be a higher risk to children and siblings of those with MS. (1) Therefore, it may not just be geographic location, but maybe a more specific environment. Such as the home, and the air and types of chemicals released into the air there.

So why are women more prone to getting MS than men? Women alone do not live in these high-risk countries. Throughout the body there are cells named Schwann cells that help to maintain the nerve's myelin. The Schwann cell needs the hormone progesterone in order to continuously protect the fatty tissue surrounding the nerve. If there is anything that interrupts the Schwann cell then the production of myelin is ceased. (5) What makes this production stop more often in women than in men? Birth control pills such as the morning after pill halt production. (5) It is totally absurd that women's devices that are sometimes essential a mere birth control method, puts them at a higher risk for MS. It's really a perplexing decision now to take these drugs. What's more I do not think it is explained properly when using these products that it puts a woman at greater risk for Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis unfortunately has no cure. (3) There are medications that can help alleviate some of the symptoms of MS. There is the antioxidant Pycnogenol that can reduce the free radical tissue damage because it has the ability to penetrate the blood brain barrier. (5) One of the more common symptoms of MS is spasticity and marijuana has been reported to decrease this symptom in MS patients. (4) The tremor symptom associated with MS has been treated with tetrahydrocannabinol and has shown improvements in many patient's motor coordination. (4) Food allergies are said to play a role in the progression and treatment thereof of MS. (5) Through intake of allergenic foods, the blood-brain barrier becomes affected. Tests show that those suffering from MS have had numerous food allergies. Allergies are said to relate to MS because it causes the process of inflammation and that is a known disorder of the immune system. The fact that MS is an autoimmune disease this inflammation causes damage to the central nervous system. (5) If allergies cause MS then shouldn't MS numbers decrease because people know not to eat the foods they are allergic to? But does everyone know they are allergic to something? The body does not necessarily have to show a specific reaction if it is allergic to a certain food.

While there is no cure to MS it is fair to say that there may be some prevention techniques that can help decrease your chances of developing MS. For women they should be moderate or not use their birth control methods at all. People with food allergies should be very careful not to eat those foods. In the future they are trying to design medications aimed at reducing specific autoimmune response and if possible a medication that would help rebuild the myelin around the nerve.

Multiple Sclerosis is a very debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system in a variety of ways. MS is a complex disease that is striking because it causes the immune system to attack the body. Those that currently have MS are suffering from a disease from which there is no cure and can only have their symptoms alleviated for a while. Earlier mandatory testing should be at the forefront for the young adults that MS targets. >

| Course Home Page | Forum | Brain and Behavior | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:52:51 CDT

WWW Sources

1)What is MS?,

2)What is Multiple Sclerosis,

3)Multiple Sclerosis: Overview,

4)References on Multiple Sclerosis and Marijuana ,

5)Multiple Sclerosis, Mulitiple Sclerosis Symptom, Multiple Sclerosis Treatment,

6)My Life and Fight Against Multiple Sclerosis,

7)Multiple Sclerosis,

8)Multiple Sclerosis,