Does a Meat-Heavy Diet Increase MS Risk?

What causes “attacks,” or periods of intense symptoms, in those with multiple sclerosis (MS)? In the past, research has suggested that viral infections or even certain bacteria could play a role (though the research found nothing definitive). More recently, certain researchers hypothesized that the gut microbiome could play a role in MS development. More specifically, shares Robert Preidt from WebMD, researchers wondered if gut bacteria could prompt immune dysregulation. 

As gut bacteria are influenced by diet, researchers went a step further: how could our diets increase the risk of developing MS? 

To begin, researchers evaluated 49 individuals. Of these individuals, 25 had MS and the remainder did not. The research team, headed by Dr. Yanjiao Zhou of the UConn Health School of Medicine, discovered that:

  • Those with MS tended to eat more meat than those who did not. This increased consumption was associated with lower Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron levels. Normally, this bacteria helps digest carbohydrates from vegetables. 
  • Researchers also linked eating more meat with heightened T-helper 17 cell and S-adenosyl-L methionine levels. 

Ultimately, share the researchers, the findings suggest some sort of disconnect between gut health and immune response. For example, the researchers believe that eating more meat causes gut bacteria to cause an improper immune response. However, the researchers also acknowledge the small sample size and hope to perform additional research, utilizing more individuals with MS, moving forward. 

About Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

As described above, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological and autoimmune disease. In those with multiple sclerosis, the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages myelin, or the protective covering of nerve cells. As a result, nerve fibers become exposed, inhibiting neuro communication. Multiple sclerosis can either be relapsing and remitting (periods of symptoms and periods of remission) or progressive (no remission). While it can occur at any age, it most often develops between ages 20 to 50. Additionally, females are 2x more likely than males to develop MS. 

Symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis include:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness in the arms and legs
  • Lhermitte’s sign
  • Eye or back pain
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Heat intolerance
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Feeling of “pins and needles”
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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