Why You Should Avoid Gluten If You Have Multiple Sclerosis

What's the connection between multiple sclerosis (MS) and celiac disease (CD)? They're both autoimmune conditions — and apparently, you're more likely to suffer from the latter if you have the former, according to a study published in BioMed Central Neurology.

MS is a condition that affects the central nervous system, in which the immune system attacks it by causing severe inflammation (via National Multiple Sclerosis Society). Inflammation damages the myelin (the casings surrounding the nerve fibers) and the nerve fibers themselves within the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Scientists aren't totally sure what causes MS, but believe it to be a combination of genetic factors, environmental factors, and irregularities in the immune system.

While MS affects everyone differently, making lifestyle choices that reduce inflammation can help manage symptoms (via Healthline). And your diet may help — especially if you also have CD, where consuming gluten causes intestinal damage (via Celiac Disease Foundation).

Does gluten make multiple sclerosis worse?

In a study published in BioMed Central Neurology, 72 MS patients and 126 of their relatives were compared to a control group of 123 healthy people. The results showed that 11% of people suffering from MS also suffered from CD, along with a whopping 32% of their relatives. Researchers concluded that early detection and dietary treatment of CD was recommended.

Even if you're not diagnosed with CD, you may still be sensitive to gluten. "Even if MS patients haven't been diagnosed with celiac disease, if they're experiencing tummy upset when certain foods are eaten, particularly gluten, it's a good plan to simply eliminate it from their diet," says Dr. Robert Fallis, a neurologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (via U.S. News and World Report). Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye (via Healthline). While it's become trendy to go gluten-free, CD is a real autoimmune condition that affects 1 in 100 people globally (via Celiac Disease Foundation). Damage to the small intestine causes nutrient malabsorption. If left untreated, it can lead to long-term health conditions.

Multiple sclerosis and celiac disease are serious autoimmune diseases. If you're experiencing symptoms of either, contact your health care provider immediately.