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MS Risk Factors: Does Immigration to Canada Play a Role?

ms risk and immigration
Time Spent in Canada Linked to Higher MS Risk in New Study

Immigrating to Canada and Multiple Sclerosis
Does Time Spent There Increase Risk?

Source:  American Academy of Neurology

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory disease that disrupts the central nervous system. MS risk has a complex condition with a mix of genetic and environmental  risk factors. While the exact cause remains unknown, research suggests a connection between environmental exposures, MS risk and development.

A recent study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, explored the link between immigration to Canada and MS risk. The findings suggest that immigrants who spend a greater portion of their lives in Canada have a higher risk of developing MS compared to those with less time there.

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Study Details and Key Findings

The research, led by Dr. Manav V. Vyas of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, investigated a cohort of 1.5 million immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1985 and 2003. All participants had health insurance for at least two years with no prior MS diagnosis. Researchers followed them through 2016 to monitor for MS development.

During the study period, 934 individuals were diagnosed with MS, translating to a rate of 0.44 cases per 100,000 person-years. Notably, previous research suggests a higher overall MS rate in Canada, ranging from 15 to 17 cases per 100,000 person-years.

The study design incorporated factors like age at arrival and time since immigration to calculate the proportion of life spent in Canada. The average participant had spent roughly 20% of their life in the country.

The key finding revealed a 38% increased risk of developing MS among immigrants who spent 70% of their lives in Canada compared to those who spent only 20%. This association held true even after accounting for variables like sex, age, and other health conditions.

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Possible Explanations and Areas for Future Research

While the study establishes a correlation, it doesn’t definitively prove that living longer in Canada causes MS. However, the findings offer valuable insights into potential environmental or lifestyle factors at play.

Dr. Vyas suggests several possibilities:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Immigrants may adopt habits prevalent in Canada, such as increased smoking or dietary shifts, which are known risk factors for MS.
  • Environmental Exposures: Sunlight exposure is another potential factor. Vitamin D synthesis from sunlight has been linked to a lower MS risk. Immigrants from regions with higher sun exposure might experience a change in their sun exposure patterns upon moving to Canada.
  • The Gut Microbiome: Emerging research suggests a connection between gut bacteria composition and MS risk. Lifestyle and environmental factors can influence the gut microbiome, and this might play a role in the observed association.
ms risk and immigration
Time Spent in Canada Linked to Higher MS Risk in New Study

The study acknowledges limitations. New MS diagnoses were based on healthcare system interactions, and immigrants might differ from non-immigrants in seeking care due to cultural background, language barriers, or other factors. Additionally, information on specific environmental exposures was not available in the study.

Future research is needed to delve deeper into these potential explanations. Studies that explore specific lifestyle habits, sunlight exposure patterns, and gut microbiome analysis among immigrant populations could provide valuable insights.

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Social Determinants of Health and MS Risk

The study highlights the potential role of social determinants of health, such as income, education, access to nutritious food, and neighborhood quality. Immigrants, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, might face challenges accessing healthy food options or living in environments with higher pollution levels. These factors could contribute to an increased risk of MS.

Further research investigating the interplay between social determinants of health, lifestyle factors, and environmental exposures among immigrants would be crucial for understanding the observed association with MS risk.

Importance of the Study and Public Health Implications

This study offers valuable insights for public health strategies. By understanding the potential environmental and lifestyle factors influencing MS risk in immigrants, healthcare professionals can develop targeted interventions.

Here are some potential areas for public health initiatives:

  • Immigrant Health Education: Educational programs could raise awareness about modifiable risk factors for MS among immigrants, encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and promoting access to preventive measures.
  • Culturally Sensitive Healthcare: Fostering culturally sensitive healthcare services can improve access to diagnosis and treatment for immigrants experiencing MS symptoms.
  • Social Support Programs: Social support programs can help address challenges related to social determinants of health, potentially mitigating their contribution to MS risk.

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The study by Dr. Vyas and colleagues sheds light on the potential association between immigration to Canada and MS risk. While more research is needed to pinpoint the specific factors at play, the findings highlight the importance of environmental and lifestyle influences on MS development. Public health strategies that address modifiable risk factors and promote health equity among immigrant populations hold promise for reducing MS risk in this group.

This article provides a general overview based on the referenced study. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have concerns about MS risk factors or are experiencing possible MS symptoms, consult with your healthcare provider.


The content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance regarding your health needs.

Written by Dr. Evelyn Karen

Maryam's career spans diverse industries, driven by an unwavering passion for the written word. Her journey is marked by the creation of compelling narratives for esteemed multinational companies. Maryam's expertise extends to the realms of recreation and leisure, establishing her as a trusted authority in recreation planning and execution. Whether crafting marketing strategies, weaving captivating narratives, or orchestrating recreation plans, she wields her pen like a magic wand, conjuring masterpieces that await discovery. Brace yourself to be enthralled, inspired, and entertained within the enchanting worlds she conjures through her words.

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