The study examined data 72 patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and 126 of their first-degree relatives in comparison with 123 healthy control subjects from the same area. Researchers were looking for indicators of celiac disease, and the results were…well, they seemed surprising at first.
Like celiac disease, MS is an autoimmune condition. Also like celiac disease, there is a genetic component and to some extent it runs in families. In patients with MS, the myelin sheath, a protective covering around nerve cells, gets increasingly worn down because of inflammation. The nerve damage causes a range of symptoms, depending on where in the nervous system it strikes: loss of balance, sight, mobility, bladder control, etc. There is no cure.
Where does the inflammation come from? From the body attacking itself. Why does the body attack itself? We’re not really sure.
In the control group, 2.4% tested positive for tissue IgA antibodies, an indicator of celiac disease. Amongst MS patients, 10% tested positive and 11.1% showed mild or moderate villous atrophy upon biopsy.
What’s more, 32% of their first-degree relatives tested positive for signs of celiac disease.
And what’s even more: the average age of onset of MS was younger in celiac patients than non-celiacs.
The clearest takeaway is a simple one: if you or a relative suffers from MS, he/she/you should get tested for celiac disease ASAP. Remember that you need to be tested before you go on a gluten-free diet, or the antibodies will not be present in your system and the test will be worthless.
Also, if you have or suspect you have celiac disease: don’t take it lightly. We’ve all heard vague warnings that untreated celiac disease can lead to a host of other problems: here’s data to back that up.
The study did not look into whether or not untreated celiac disease could lead to MS. It did mention that those subjects who were found to have celiac disease were immediately placed on a gluten-free diet and, “all of them improved considerably both with respect to the gastrointestinal and to the neurological symptomatology in the follow-up period.”
It would be interesting to track the progress of the just-diagnosed first-degree relatives, to see which of them adopt a gluten-free diet and which of them (hopefully none of them) develop MS as time goes by.
You can read the study for yourself here. What are your thoughts on Multiple Sclerosis and celiac disease?