Wheat Diet May Exacerbate Multiple Sclerosis Severity — Study
LONDON — A diet containing wheat can increase the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. The immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in an overreaction, causing them to continuously die.
About 2.8 million people worldwide are affected by MS. The prevalence is increasing significantly, especially among young adults and women.
In two studies, published in the journals Gut and Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders, the researchers found that a natural protein in wheat called amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATI), influences the inflammatory reaction that can result in temporary sensory disturbances, visual disturbances and muscle paralysis.
ATI are natural proteins found in cereals such as wheat, barley and rye. The ATI proteins are hardly digested and cause mild inflammatory reactions in the intestine.
However, they do not only act in the intestine: Inflammatory cells and soluble inflammatory mediators activated by ATI can also be transported from the intestine to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, revealed the team at the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany.
The team discovered that the ATI proteins promote existing inflammatory processes in organs such as the liver or lungs and, what’s new, even in the central nervous system. As a result, the ATI proteins can exacerbate the symptoms of MS.
“Until now, however, there was no clear evidence that a wheat-containing diet can also influence inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system. We have now been able to show, both in an animal model and in a clinical pilot study, that the ATI proteins in wheat can enhance the severity of MS. These ATI proteins play a broader role in inflammation than the gluten proteins,” said Prof. Dr. Detlef Schuppan, Director of the Institute of Translational Immunology at the varsity and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The team’s initial study in an animal model showed that a diet containing 25 per cent wheat markedly worsened the symptoms of MS compared to an otherwise identical but wheat-free diet. These results could also be reproduced with a minimal amount of ATI proteins (0.15 per cent of the feed weight), but not with a large amount of gluten proteins (5 per cent of the feed weight).
Patients with moderately severe, mildly active MS took part in this study. One study group followed a wheat-reduced diet for three months, while the other group continued their wheat-containing diet.
After the three months, the groups switched to the other diet for a further three months. The MS patients reported significantly less pain during the wheat-free diet. Fewer inflammatory immune cells were also measured in their blood.