Can food allergies cause multiple sclerosis?

Doctors are not sure exactly what causes multiple sclerosis (MS). An autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, MS causes sufferers' immune systems to damage their own central nervous systems. Although individuals have to be genetically susceptible in order to develop MS, once they have this genetic predisposition, onset of the disease can be triggered by environmental factors, including diet. Data indicates that food hypersensitivities, including food allergies, may initiate, exacerbate or aid in the progression of the disease.

Like MS, allergies are related to the immune system. When you have a food allergy, your immune system identifies the food as harmful to your body and tries to fight it off. Different people have different reactions to foods they are allergic to, ranging from rashes and itchy skin to gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Components of some common food allergens, such as milk, legumes and grains, are known to cause autoimmune diseases. The proteins in milk even cause degeneration of the central nervous systems of mice in a way that closely resembles MS.

Food allergies are much more common in people with MS (50 to 75 percent) than in the general population (one to two percent). The most common food allergens among people with MS are dairy, grains, yeast, eggs and legumes. (Among the general population the most common food allergens are dairy, wheat, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish.)

The avoidance of allergenic foods has been known to help control MS symptoms (and the reintroduction of those foods to cause the recurrence of symptoms). Avoiding food allergens is actually recommended as a form of treatment.