Blame the Vikings?
MS has been linked to a Celtic Gene. John Brophy argues that the genetic component could have come from further north
Everyone connected with MS knows that there is a strong genetic component in the disease, which seems to be triggered by a catalyst.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that either a sudden shock or long term stress can have this effect, but it must be stressed that scientific tests to date have not shown there is any link between shock and MS.
The genetic question is equally complicated. Some hereditary factors are very well understood. Red hair, for instance happens when a person inherits a gene from both mother and father, and the combination of recessive (hidden) genes results in the hidden factor becoming apparent. The laws governing how this happens have been known since the time of Gregor Mendel.
There are many ailments and diseases which are also hereditary. Researchers have now identified which gene is responsible for cystic fibrosis, and couples planning a family where there is a history of the dis-ease can receive genetic counselling.
But with MS, the question is more puzzling. Over the last few years, all the genes of the human body have been mapped, but in many cases, their function is not yet understood, nor how they relate to one another.
We are left with questions like, for instance, why the incidence of MS is about twice as high in Donegal as in most other parts of Ireland.
But equally, there could be a Viking gene. In Canada, where there is a high MS rate, it is well known that people of Scottish ancestry are more susceptible, and this has given rise to theories about a Celtic Gene.
The Vikings arrived in Ireland in the year 835 AD. No amount of diplomacy can hide the fact that they were very bloodthirsty and barbaric characters, who often murdered babies and had a gruesome range of tortures. Just check on the doings of characters like Ivar the Boneless if you doubt this.
In Ireland they founded big settle-ments on the east coast, including Dublin, Wicklow, Arklow, Wexford and Waterford. Even in surnames like Doyle, Dubh-ghall, the dark foreigner, their memory is preserved.
In England, they captured the northern half of the country, called the Danelaw, and ran a protection racket on the other half, taking up to 8,000 ounces of silver in one year as tax from the Saxons.
They were stopped for a short while by Alfred the Great, but their cousins, who had settled in Normandy, arrived back in England in 1066, conquered everyone, including their Viking cousins, and have effectively ruled the country ever since and shrewdly marrying new money to keep themselves on top.
In Ireland, they arrived in 1169, but within a couple of centuries had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves” so that today, it is likely that everyone in Ireland has Vikings who came here werefrom Norway and Denmark.
The Swedish Vikings, though, concentrated on going down the river valleys of central Europe, where they enslaved the local populace and sold them to eastern traders. They had a huge influence: by the year 1,000 they had become the imperial guard in Byzantium, and even to this day there are places like the Lebanon where some people have fair hair and blue eyes.
In these places, too, there seem to be pockets of high incidence of MS though more work needs to be done to see if there is a link.
The Normans made their way by sea into the Mediterranean, where they founded the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, with its capital in Naples, and the Vikings had earlier set up in parts of Spain.
One other intriguing factor came from a conversation I had about the recent MS conference in Oslo. Some people there were talking to people from the ethnic minority of the Saami or Laplanders. Obviously, they share the same environment and diet as the rest of the population, but the claim was made that they never get MS unless they intermarry with the Nordic population.
This provides some food for thought.
It could be pointed out there are isolated cases of MS in places where the Vikings are not recorded as having reached – but since it’s pretty certain they reached North America and most of the Mediterranean, there’s no knowing how far they, or the crusading Normans, might have reached.
One other clue worth pursuing could come from folklore. The Norse sagas are among the largest bodies of folklore and mythology recorded. We in Ireland know very little about them, but it could be worth checking to see if they contain stories of anyone with MS symptoms. If so, that would show that the Vikings knew about the disease – though the absence would say nothing.
Heart disease pinned on Vikings
Vikings may be the reason why more people suffer from heart disease in the North East of England, researchers claim.
The world’s largest-ever study of family heart disease suggests Vikings interbred for three centuries. Nordic invaders are said to have passed on genetic disorders which can cause heart disease, concludes the study, sponsored by the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council. Alistair Hall, of the University of Leeds and joint leader of the £2.5 million Family Heart Study, said: “We know that cardio-vascular disease, particularly coronary artery com-plaints, is big in Northern Europe.
“In this country, heart disease is higher in the North than in the South. There are certain clusterings, and these happen to coincide with certain patterns of invasion. There is no better explanation yet, and it appears to make sense.”
According to the findings of the survey, those whose families stayed in the North East are more likely to be more at risk to heart disease, says The Independent on Sunday.
The scientists say more positive genetic invasions elsewhere, particularly those of the Romans and Normans, created a stronger, hetero-geneous gene pool.