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Food reactions linked to MS and neuro-autoimmune diseases

A recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found subjects with food allergies experienced a higher rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) disease activity than those without food allergies.

Researchers divided a group of 1,349 patients into four allergy groups: environmental, drug, food, and no known allergies. They assessed these groups in relation to:

  • Number of MS attacks
  • Expanded disability status scale (EDSS)
  • MS severity score (MSSS)
  • Radiological variables: presence of gadolinium-enhancing lesions and lesion count.

While the drug and environmental allergy groups did not show significant differences compared with the no-allergy group, the food allergy group showed a 1.38 times higher rate in the number of attacks, and more than twice the likelihood of having gadolinium-enhancing lesions on MRI. Gadolinium enhancement is a marker for blood-brain barrier breakdown and correlates with the inflammatory phase of MS lesion development.

According to study author Tanuja Chitnis, MD, “Food allergies perturb the immune system in ways that seem to increase MS inflammatory activity.”

Researchers also suggested gut bacteria, or the microbiome, is an important factor. Further studies on the microbiome and diet may provide more information.

Food allergies vs. food sensitivities in MS and neurological autoimmune diseases

Unfortunately, the study did not differentiate between true food allergy and food sensitivities — more research is required to identify which is at the root of these reactions.

Distinguishing between food allergy and food sensitivity is key for grasping how your diet may affect your symptoms.

A true food allergy is an overreaction by your immune system to a protein it perceives as a threat. Within seconds or minutes, it mobilizes fighter proteins called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to drive the invader out, resulting in these immediate symptoms:

  • Rash, hives, or itching
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling in the airways
  • Anaphylaxis

Food sensitivities begin in a similar fashion, but less aggressive immunoglobulin G (IgG) proteins are mobilized. They may not show their effects for hours or days (or even longer) after the pathogen has entered the body. Symptoms vary widely and include:

  • Brain fog
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Mood disorders
  • Gut disturbances
  • Low energy
  • Joint pain
  • And many more

Because food sensitivity reactions are slower, not as obvious, and typically not potentially deadly, doctors tend to dismiss them. However, their slow-acting effects can still be extremely hazardous to someone with neurological autoimmunity such as MS.

Inflammation and the brain

If you are familiar with “leaky gut” you understand it occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes overly porous. This allows toxins, undigested food molecules, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, triggering an immune cascade that raises your risk for food sensitivities, pain, systemic inflammation, and autoimmunity.

Like the gut lining, the blood-brain barrier is the protective layer around the brain that allows nutrients in while keeping pathogens out. The same factors that cause leaky gut can also cause the blood-brain barrier to become “leaky,” causing inflammation in the brain.

One of the worst consequences of food sensitivities and chronic inflammation in the brain is over activation of glial cells, the brain’s immune clean-up crew.

Under normal circumstances glial cells remove debris and dead cells from the brain and then the brain returns to normal. However, glial cells don’t have an easy off-switch, and when confronted by chronic inflammation, they go haywire, creating a further inflammatory cascade that can result in:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Schizophrenia and other severe psychological disorders\
  • ADHD
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
  • Neurological symptoms

Functional neurology for brain inflammation?

To manage your brain inflammation, you must determine if you have food sensitivities. This can be done either with sensitive lab testing by Cyrex Labs, or by an elimination and reintroduction diet that helps determine the offending foods. These are strategies we use in functional neurology to help guide you through the process.

Functional neurology offers many other ways to help reduce brain inflammation and associated symptoms:

Functional neurology rehabilitation. In functional neurology, we use comprehensive examinations and customized rehabilitation protocols to target the areas of your brain and nervous system that need support.

Regular exercise. Raising your heart rate floods your brain with oxygen, nutrients, and anti-inflammatory brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps your neurons communicate better.

Blood sugar regulation. Keeping your blood sugar stable is one of the most important ways to reduce or prevent brain inflammation.

Look out for high blood sugar symptoms including:

  • Constant sugar cravings, especially after eating
  • Fatigue after meals
  • Constant hunger
  • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • General fatigue
  • Frequent urination

And low blood sugar symptoms including:

  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, light-headedness, or dizziness when you miss a meal
  • Energy crashes in the afternoon
  • The need for caffeine for energy

Ant-inflammatory diet. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in sugars, processed foods, allergens, and inflammatory foods such as gluten and nightshades. An anti-inflammatory elimination diet can help you determine which foods are causing inflammation.

Manage stress. Daily stress-reduction habits such as meditation, qi gong, walking, laughter, and play are anti-inflammatory and benefit brain health.

Improve brain circulation. The better the circulation to your brain, the more oxygen and other needed nutrients you give it. Ways to help include:

  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Don’t smoke
  • Address hypothyroidism
  • Address asthma and sleep apnea

Please contact my office for guidance on how functional neurology can help you with MS and other neurological autoimmune symptoms or diseases.

Meet the Author

Dr. Matz DC

Dr. Jeffrey E. Matz, DC, MS, is a Board Certified Chiropractic Physician. He is licensed to practice in SC, NC, and GA. Dr. Matz is passionate about functional medicine and strives to help patients achieve optimal health. His focus is on helping our members with hormone imbalances, autoimmune conditions, chronic pain conditions, and diabetes. Among the thousands of people Dr. Matz has treated include Carolina Panthers football players, PGA Tour and Champions Tour golfers, collegiate athletes, and local and international celebrities. Dr. Matz was a semiprofessional cyclist, and has competed in triathlons for the last 7 years, including completing an IRONMAN triathlon.

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