I have had the experience of diagnosing multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with gluten intolerance. The results were often an improvement of their nervous system, MS related symptoms. When they related their improvement to their neurologist, it was frequently met with disbelief or a comment that implied some type of ‘placebo’ effect. Patients would be very frustrated at the dismissal of what they felt was a significant factor in their health.
While I’ve only had my clinical experience to stand on this discussion, we now have a wonderful study that reveals quite a strong correlation between gluten and MS.
BMC Neurology last March 2011 published a study entitled “Prevalence of Celiac Disease in Multiple Sclerosis” where it was reported that the population of individuals suffering from MS appeared to be 5 to 10 times more likely to develop celiac disease than the general population. Interestingly their first degree relatives were 16 to 32 times more likely to develop celiac.
Celiac disease is understood to be associated with different autoimmune and neurological diseases. To see how this potentially related to MS, the researchers examined 72 patients suffering with MS along with their 125 first-degree relatives and compared them to 123 healthy controls.
Ten percent of the MS patients were found to have positive blood tests for celiac disease as compared to 2% of the healthy controls. Note: this study found 2% of the ‘general population’ to have celiac disease. This is significant for we have used the figure of 1% incidence for quite some time. It is my belief that it IS higher and this study certainly gives merit to that supposition.
Examining the same individuals through biopsy, 11% of the MS patients had celiac disease. An astounding 32% of the first-degree relatives were also found to have celiac disease. No comment was made as to reasons why first-degree relatives would have such a marked increase.
Conditions known to be associated to celiac disease including dermatitis and iron deficiency anemia were found in 57% and 39% of the MS patients respectively. Not surprisingly, considering that MS and celiac are both autoimmune diseases and where there is one autoimmune condition there is usually more, the researchers also found indications of other autoimmune conditions. Specifically autoimmune thyroid disease was found in 26% and rheumatoid arthritis in 15% of the MS patients.
When a gluten free diet was instituted all of the MS patients with celiac disease improved ‘considerably’. Not only did their digestive complaints improve but so did their nervous system symptoms.
Dr. Rodrigo, the main researcher stated that, “So the main message that we want to [get out] to doctors who attend MS patients is to perform clinical, serological [blood], genetic, and histologic [biopsy] studies directed to find a possible associated [celiac disease]”.
I concur completely.
Some unanswered questions that remain for me are:
- What percentage of those suffering with MS are gluten sensitive vs. celiac? What about their first-degree relatives?
- Would diagnosing gluten intolerance earlier in life have prevented an onset of MS?
In summary their conclusions were that increased efforts should be aimed at the early detection and dietary treatment of celiac disease amongst affected MS patients.
If you know anyone who suffers from MS or anyone in their family does, they should definitely be screened for gluten intolerance. Further, if you see a neurologist for your MS please enlighten them as to the results of this study.
I hope you find this helpful. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”