A limited number of studies have evaluated the possible role of allergies in MS. No well-designed studies exist to support any specific food or environmental factor as an allergic cause of MS. In addition, no studies have demonstrated that eliminating exposure to a certain presumed allergic agent is beneficial.
One suspected allergic substance that has been investigated is gluten, a protein present in wheat and wheat products. However, studies of the intestinal lining and blood have not demonstrated a sensitivity to gluten in people with MS. Also, no benefit was found in a study of people with MS who did not consume gluten. In one study using the animal model of MS, a gluten-free diet actually increased the severity of the disease.
It is interesting to note that people with MS actually appear to have fewer allergic problems than do those who do not have the disease. Recent information indicates that people with MS have nearly 70 percent fewer allergic symptoms and more than 80 percent fewer positive allergy tests than the general population. This appears to be a result of the underlying immune disorder that occurs in MS.
In other studies, it appears that components of the immune system that are involved in allergies may play a role in MS. Specifically, mast cells, allergy-associated immune cells, are present in MS lesions in the central nervous system. In experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model of MS, brain lesions contain allergy-related immune cells and immune molecules. Also, in EAE, some studies show that disease severity is decreased when animals are treated with antihistamines and other compounds that inhibit the allergic response. In one study, antihistamine use was associated with a decreased risk of developing MS.
The role of allergic responses in MS is an evolving field. Although no evidence suggests that a specific allergy causes MS or that allergic responses are the primary immune abnormality in MS, it is possible that allergy-related components of the immune system may affect MS disease severity. These allergic components of the immune system are being studied as possible targets for future MS drug therapies.
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