North v South

Someone told me today they thought there were more MS sufferers in the North of the UK (Scotland,Northern England etc) than in the south. I’m from Kent so I have no idea if this is true and if it is true why would that be? Anyone else heard this?


Yes, according to what I’ve read, it’s true.

The incidence of MS in Scotland is one of the highest (if not THE highest?) in the world.

In general, the prevalence of MS increases with distance from the equator, which lends weight to the theory that vitamin D deficiency plays a part. People who live far from the equator - i.e. nearer the poles - can’t make enough vitamin D in winter, due to low levels of natural sunlight.

However, there may also be a genetic element. I also read that people with surnames beginning Mc or Mac (indicating Scottish ancestry) have higher rates of MS, whether or not they were born and brought up in Scotland! So where you live - especially up to the age of 15 - is important, but genes are also important. “Celtic” genes may be associated with increased risk.

On the bright side, there’s no evidence it’s to do with unequal distribution of wealth, or anything like that. It’s unequal distribution of entirely natural factors, like genes and sunlight.


Interesting, that. I was born and lived in Manchester (my first 20 years) then moved to London (43 years ago). The famous north/south divide again?


Spending your childhood where the sun doesn’t often shine seems to increase one’s risks of developing MS later. The current best guess is that it is something to do with chronic Vitamin D deficiency at an impressionable age. I’m from Belfast.


Hi Tina,

Can you remember where you read that ‘Celtic’ genes may associate with an increased risk? That’s a new one on me, and being of Cornish blood I’m curious. Of course, there’s much dispute as to what exactly ‘Celtic’ is, but that’s a debate for another forum.


Looks like I am up the creek with no paddles!! Scottish born with Celtic genes…never mind…its nearly the weekend…HEEHAW!!! :~€

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Blimey, Ben - I struggle to remember what I had for lunch today!

I think I read it when I was just recently diagnosed - which was over five years ago - and I was reading everything I could lay my hands on.

It may have been “Viking”, rather than Celtic per se - obviously, further north, there would be some overlap. But definitely the bit about Mc and Mac, which meant there was more to it than just where you live, as they still had higher incidence than the surrounding population, even if their connection with Scotland was purely ancestral, and they’d never been there.

If you’ve got access to Google and a bit of time on your hands, I don’t doubt it’s still out there somewhere. Pretty sure it was online, and not a magazine or newspaper.

I happen to have Scots ancestry (even know which clan), but don’t know if it’s relevant, as it’s on my mother’s side. We have another known case of MS in the family - but only on my father’s side - nothing to do with the Scots lot. Whether that means I inherited a dose of risk from both sides, I’ve no idea.


Once diagnosed, your risk of having MS rises to 100% - or at least, 99%, as reputedly, a 100% conclusive diagnosis can only be made post mortem.

So on the bright side, you no longer need to worry about having the “risky” genes. You did, and you do.


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Thanks Tina, I’ll maybe have a bit of a google sometime. I read quite a lot of stuff, but I don’t remember seeing celtic or Mac getting a special mention, just that the further north you go, the higher the risk. In theory this leaves the cornish with the lowest risk in the land, but it hasn’t helped me much! Ah well…

Nos dha!


I have also read the highest incidents of MS are in Shetland, are the Vikings to blame?

Mags xx

I think that that may have a lot to do with it but I don’t think it is as straightforward as that.

My original consultant was very interested in various genetic and environmental factors that were possibly involved in the development of MS in certain genetic groups.

It is well established that people in the far north of the UK and other parts of Europe (e.g. the Scottish islands and the Scandinavian countries) have a higher propensity to MS than other parts of Europe.

It is also established that people with ethnic origins nearer to the equator have a lower propensity.

Is this because of the genetic make up of people in the North of the globe or is it simply to do with the amount of sunshine/vitamin D these people are exposed to or it is a combination of both?

It is very interesting that the genetic make-up of the people in the Scottish islands with a high propensity to MS shows a strong “Viking” element and there is no real indication that a person with “pure Anglo-Saxon” genetic origins brought up in Shetland in the formative years would be more liable to analysts than if they had been brought up in Godalming. (Although there are obviously very few such people from Shetland to make it a statistically viable comparison!)

Vikings are of course not Celts and simply being born/raised in the Celtic parts of Britain and/or Ireland does not actually make you a Celt (genetically anyway!) That is also being recent research that is shown that, genetically, there is no single “Celtic” race anyway with Scottish and Cornish Celts having more genetically in common with “the English” than they do with Welsh or Irish Celts.

As a person of “Celtic background” (Irish parentage) I am of the opinion that, for many “Celts” being a Celt is as much an emotional rather than a factual genetic thing. In most parts of these islands the gene pool is very stirred up and has been for many many many generations - this is not, of course, that your inherent genetic make up can’t throw up a present from your forebears in the form of a propensity to certain diseases. (Coeliac disease anybody?)

If the simple “Viking” gene theory is true then there would also be a statistically higher propensity to MS in Northumbria/North Yorkshire etc or even in areas that fell under the “Danelaw” (eg parts of Merseyside and Cheshire) which would have had a significant amount of Viking in the gene pool. Similarly, Eire.

However, according to my original consultant, there is a very interesting thing that has been noted about people whose ethnic origins are from nearer the equator but who have been brought up in places further north. He told me that there is a significantly higher incidence of MS amongst second or third generation Indian or black Caribbean people born and raised in Europe than there is in India or the Caribbean. Is this because some people have a genetic make up that means that they process Vitamin D less efficiently but that this is not a problem until they come to an environment where there is less available sunlight/Vitamin D?

As this long rambling post will have shown, I found the whole question of genetics and their effect on different generations absolutely fascinating. It will also show that I am absolutely not an expert on the subject so I have no viable theories of my own and can only just parrot suggestions from others! Isn’t nature wonderful?!

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I found it!

Thank you! Pretty sure that’s not where I originally read it, but it’s obviously talking about the same research, so I’m glad I wasn’t imaging things.


I’m sure that I read somewhere that there is a very high incidence of MS in Canada as well, particularly amongst people who descend from Scottish emigrants, of which there were many millions in the 17th to 19th centuries (sorry, can’t be specific as the reason for the large emigration from Scotland to Canada as my brain didn’t hold onto that bit of information). I think (again dredging the recesses of my mind) that the high incidence of MS is Canada has been the cause of a lot of research, in particular genetic research amongst the MSers with Scottish forebears.


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Well done Loretta! That was an interesting read, thank you for posting the link.


Thank you to everyone for your input. Such an interesting subject. Doesn’t help get rid of this damn disease but helps a tiny bit with trying to understand it and come to terms with it xx

Canada is widely reported as having the highest per capita incidence of MS.

The disease attracts a lot of interest over here, with many high street shops, giving $s to the MS Society and announcing such things as part of month long marketing efforts.

The absence of adequate sunlight etc, as usual, is given as an explanation for why Canada is so burdened, but a genetic predisposition is a considerable factor; it has been found that the First Nations / Inuit community has pretty much 0% incidence of MS.

Of course ‘eskimoos’ spend a great deal of time out doors, never gorge on Big Macs etc and are about as organic in diet as one might get!

But anyway… some further thoguhts can be read here:

I’ve heard and read all of these things too.

I’m a Scot, (and a Mc) age 48 and very recently diagnosed (10 days) although we can trace it back over 5 years but obviously can’t confirm that now. I find the vitamin D thing interesting in particular. I know we don’t get the opportunity much but I am the biggest sun worshipper out (enjoying sunny Mediterranean holidays too). From April to October I am outside as much as possible and think nothing of sitting outside with a fleece on if it’s warm enough.

I’m feeling that it’s just one of those things and although it would be “comforting” (wrong word but can’t think of the right one) to have some sort of rhyme or reason for it.

All I know for certain is that it’s unpredictable and a complete flipping nuisance!

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It’s only a matter of time before the SNP are blamed.


It may not be just your personal exposure to sunlight that is key, but your mother’s exposure during pregnancy.

In the Northern Hemisphere, May birthdays have the unfortunate distinction of topping the tables when it comes to MS diagnoses. This coincides with Winter pregnancies, when the mother may have had difficulty making sufficient vitamin D.

I was a May baby, albeit two months premature, so should have been July.

In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the other way round, with November birthdays (their seasonal equivalent of our May) topping the tables. Again suggesting there was an issue with lack of sunlight during pregnancy.

My mother was always self-conscious about her body (hairiness!) and so, without actually going to the extreme of wearing a veil, was always fully covered to neck, wrists and ankles. I don’t think she can ever have had a tan - except very occasionally on her face - since childhood. So she was probably permanently vitamin D deficient.

I’ve never mentioned this to her, as she’s always fussing that she may have done something that contributed to my getting MS.

In fact, she might have, as she never got enough sunlight, because of this foolish preoccupation about her looks. But it’s absolutely not provable, and I wouldn’t ever mention it. Even if it were proved to be true, she can’t go back and change what she didn’t know. It wouldn’t have crossed her mind that not getting enough sun might risk her own health, or that of her unborn child.

I think there is so much emphasis on skin cancer these days, that many people are unaware that totally blocking the sun has its own health risks.