A plume of smoke rising

Solvents and smoking increase the risk of developing MS

New research suggests a link between exposure to solvents and MS.

The study linked people’s exposure to solvents, like paint and varnish, to an increased risk of developing MS.

Researchers in Sweden matched over 2,000 people who had recently been diagnosed with MS, with almost 3,000 people of the same age and sex.

Blood tests were done to look for variations in two genes linked to MS. Participants were also asked about their exposure to solvents (including painting products and varnish) and whether they had a history of smoking.

Increased risks from solvents and smoking

Researchers found that people with a specific gene who had been exposed to solvents were 60% more likely to develop MS. But this means the overall chance of getting the condition was still low.

They also found people who had both genetic risk factors and a history of smoking and solvent exposure were 30 times more likely to develop MS than people without the genetic risk factors who had never smoked or been exposed to solvents.

How can smoking and solvents cause MS?

Dr Anna Hedström, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said:

"These are significant interactions where the factors have a much greater effect in combination than they do on their own. More research is needed to understand how these factors interact to create this risk. It's possible that exposure to solvents and smoking may both involve lung inflammation and irritation that leads to an immune reaction in the lungs."

What does this mean for people with MS?

Dr David Schley, Research Communications Manager at the MS Society, said:

“Like genetic and lifestyle factors, we know environmental factors play a part in MS. But we don’t yet fully understand how smoking and solvents work together to increase risk. Either way, avoiding cigarette smoke and unnecessary exposure to organic solvents, particularly in combination, appear reasonable lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of MS. This is especially important if you have a family history.”

Read the pdf paper on the neurology website