It is generally accepted that autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) arise from complex interactions between genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. Genetic variants confer predisposition to develop MS, but cannot be therapeutically modified. On the other hand, several studies have shown that different lifestyle and environmental factors influence disease development, as well as activity levels and progression. Unlike genetic risk factors, these can be modified, with potential for prevention, particularly in high-risk populations. Most studies identifying particular lifestyle and environmental factors have been carried out in Caucasian patients with MS. Little or no data is available on the behavior of these factors in Latin American populations. Ethnic and geographic differences between Latin America and other world regions suggest potential regional variations in MS, at least with respect to some of these factors. Furthermore, particular environmental characteristics observed more frequently in Latin America could explain regional differences in MS prevalence. Site-specific studies exploring influences of local environmental factors are warranted.
Keywords: Environmental factors; Epstein–Barr virus; Vitamin D; helminth infections; hygiene hypothesis; multiple sclerosis; smoking.