Multiple Sclerosis> "The Viking Hypothesis"

Book cover

For generations the underlying cause of multiple sclerosis has remained a mystery once described as "a conundrum wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a paradox". One particular explanation concerns the dissemination and distribution of a mutant autoimmune gene or group of genes in northern Europe. This theory is called The Viking Hypothesis. In the words of Alastair Compston, professor of neurology and head of the department of clinical neurosciences at Cambridge University

" I understand it, they (the Vikings) were in the habit of leaving behind their genetic material in the most generous way!"

Very quickly the author discovered that Viking archaeology and MS epidemiology are inextricably linked.

I do not claim to be an expert. I have no formal medical qualifications nor any scientific background, what I have is 30 years experience living with primary-progressive multiple sclerosis, a background and training in market-research analysis, many years using computers, and an enquiring mind. Not satisfied with the neurologists' answers, the author was driven to find out why he had contracted MS. British penal sentancing from the 18th and 19th centuries contributed substancially to the global distribution of the disease.

This ebook examines the historical background of multiple sclerosis, the Vikings, and the dissemination of this genetic heritage by Scottish immigrants throughout north America and Australasia. It is hoped this straightforward exercise by one layperson will go some way to assuage the doubts of sceptics who don't believe in the Viking Hypothesis and who say, "multiple sclerosis is not inherited".

THE VIKING HYPOTHESIS - review, by Sam Merry*

This detailed history of Viking movements with special reference to Scotland, runs in tandem with an examination - often rather technical - of one explanation of the little understood Multiple Sclerosis(MS) condition: that it was caused by the dissemination and distribution of a group of mutant autoimmune genes through promiscuous Viking migration and re-migration after 800, along with later disruptive dynastic and political events that further redistributed the gene to cause its present pattern - the so-called Viking Hypothesis, favoured by the author.

Wilson's main historical argument is - broadly - that wherever the Vikings went, there is today a higher incidence of MS. He combines history with an examination of MS and its causes, accompanied by personal anecdote. He discovered that he had MS in 1982 and, after a Y-DNA test, that he was 90% likely to have Viking genes: his name derives from Will's sons, descendants of the Norseman Gunni, son of Olaf the Black. He does a great service to sufferers of this "forgotten illness" and the non-specialist world at large by his scientific analysis, as well as entertaining with stories of Viking incursions and settlements. MS is called the "Scottish Disease" because the Orkneys and Shetlands -settled by Vikings - have the highest incidence in the world(it is twice as likely to affect women than men) - where Wilson didn't have to explain his illness because they knew it all too well: if you have a Scottish name you are much more likely to succumb.

He explains that MS is a complex disease of the nervous system, disrupting signals from the brain, causing pain, numbness paralysis and tremors - not to mention social prejudice. Mutant auto-immune genes make the body "attack itself" when white blood cells attack their own protein insulating the nerve bundles, causing damaging plaques to form on their sheathes. There are now believed to be one hundred genes associated with it and it has been linked with vitamin D deficiency.

The Viking Hypothesis justifies Wilson's detailed - almost stand-alone - analysis of Viking conquests, expansion and settlement over most of Europe - in particular England, Scotland and Ireland - and the effects of British history on its colonial spread to the New World and Australasia through "intermarriage".

The Viking hypothesis is complicated because not everyone with the Viking gene will get MS, though there is evidence enough for indirect inheritance among families of MS - hence Wilson's apparently contradictory statement that MS is not (directly) "inherited". For this reason, there is dispute over the relative strengths of the nature/nurture theories for MS. But Wilson also offers well-researched statistics and geography for his hypothesis, as well as circumstantial evidence from families of sufferers - disputing an alternative Dr Roy L. Swank theory which, noting the beer-drinking, bread-eating people of northern Europe were more susceptible to the condition, suggests it was due to the northern wheat-based diet - what one might call "the cakes and ale" hypothesis, which can be faulted by showing the Vikings also went to Italy and Sicily!

These two fascinating intertwined stories - Viking expansion of Wilson's forebears and the more technical search for a cure to MS - together make a good re/ad, with the above reservations. A cure is not yet in sight, though getting closer as our understanding grows and we wish Mr Wilson well.

(*Sam Merry has a degree in History, a Masters in Educational Administration and a PhD in Philosophy. He has been a teacher all his life in English schools and colleges, and has also taught around the world in Cairo, Singapore, the Czech republic, France, Germany and China.)

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Last edited Dec 2014. ©Terence Wilson MMIX