Commonly Asked Questions and Answers

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Commonly Asked Questions and Answers

1. Can my family members also “inherit” MS if I have MS?MS itself cannot be directly inherited as is the case for a single gene disorder (such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease). However, a genetic susceptibility (“risk”) to develop MS does exist. This is highlighted by the fact that the increased frequency of MS among family members only holds true for family members who share genetic material (DNA). Family members who grow up together in the same environment but do not share genetic material (e.g., adopted brothers and sisters, as well as stepsiblings) have no increased risk to develop MS compared to the general population.Conversely, if you do share genetic material, your risk does not change whether you were “raised together” or “raised apart” from the family member who eventually develops MS. The risk of MS among family members can be influenced by several factors including gender, ethnicity, the country/location of where one grows up, age, and biological relationship (percentage of DNA sharing) to other family members with MS, etc.If you are concerned about your risk to develop MS because you have other family members with MS, or you have MS and are worried about the risk of passing it on, please contact genetic counseling services in your area for more information (http://www.nsgc.orgccmg-ccgm.org).2. Can my child catch MS if he or she hugs, kisses or shares a cookie with someone who has MS?
MS is not a transmissible disease and cannot be caught by human contact either during childhood or adulthood. This is clearly shown by a variety of genetic epidemiological studies which have repeatedly shown this finding in separate groups (e.g., adoption studies, couples studies, and others as discussed earlier in this article).3. If my relative also develops MS, will he or she have the same clinical course of the disease that I do?
The clinical course of MS does not appear to “run true” in families if more than one family member is affected. Thus, if you develop MS, you cannot assume that you will have the same disease course as your mother, sister, or other relative with MS.4. Can you predict, in advance of any signs or symptoms, who is destined to develop MS in the future?
There are no definitive biomarkers for MS. A bio-marker can be “anatomic, physiologic, biochemical, or molecular parameters associated with the presence and severity of specific disease states” (http://www.biomarkers.org/NewFiles/faqs/ definition.html#Anchor-What-35882). This means that if you study two large groups – for example, 1,000 MS patients and 1,000 unaffected controls – you may find “risk factors” occurring more often in the affected group than in the controls, but these risk factors will still exist in both groups. Thus, you cannot test an unaffected person for a specific biomarker (such as HLA genotype or low levels of vitamin D) and then state with any certainty whether a person with or without this factor will end up being affected or unaffected by MS in the future. Hence we use the term “susceptibility” with respect to MS risk rather than “causal.”5. Can MS be prevented?
There is no way to prevent MS. No fault can be assigned if someone develops MS. There are no clear protective preventive measures that can be taken.6. If I have MS, should I have children?
Much is still to be known about reproduction and MS. If you have MS and are planning to get pregnant or to father a child, you may want to discuss various issues involved in the decision-making process with your healthcare professionals. There is no right or wrong answer. Each couple must make their own informed decision. Topics to consider include the risk of pregnancy on MS, the risk of MS on pregnancy, possible risks of MS therapy at the time of conception and/or gestation, psychosocial issues, and the long-term commitment to raising a child. Please note that while several factors should be considered in advance, many individuals with MS have been able to successfully raise children and enjoy the countless benefits of a loving family. For more information on pregnancy and raising children with MS in the family, individuals may speak with one of MSAA’s Helpline  If I am from a region where MS is rare (i.e., Shanghai, China) and am Chinese, do I change my risk to develop MS when I move to Canada? Do my genes change?
Although your genes do not change when you move, your environment does. Thus, by moving from Shanghai to Canada, you may have a higher risk to develop MS than if you stayed in Shanghai. This may be due to different environmental exposures as well as genetic and environmental interactions.

From MSAA The Motivator Winter/Spring 2011