Pregnancy hormones could delay the onset of MS: study

TORONTO — Hormone production during pregnancy could delay the onset of multiple sclerosis by several years, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Monash University Department of Neuroscience in Australia studied more than 3,600 women at MS clinics in the Czech Republic and Australia and found those who had been pregnant, and especially those who had carried a baby to full term, were diagnosed with their first MS symptoms more than three years later, on average, than those who had not.

The study is the latest of dozens using MSBase, a global initiative and database of more than 70,000 people with MS from 35 different countries. The new research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology, is the first major international research project into MS and pregnancy though reproductive factors have long been known to alter the course of the disease. 

The results of the study could have implications for the potential use of hormone therapy to delay the onset of MS, researchers said. The paper identifies estriol, the main estrogen hormone produced during pregnancy, and progesterone, another hormone involved in pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, as possible factors in suppressing MS symptoms. But more research is needed.

“At present, we don’t know exactly how pregnancy slows the development of MS, but we believe that it has to do with alterations made to a woman’s DNA,” writes Dr. Vilija Jokubaitis in the new paper. 

It is estimated that more than 77,000 Canadians—about three-quarters of whom are women—live with MS, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The researchers involved with the new study said they are seeking funding opportunities to further explore the connection between pregnancy and MS.

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