The Surprising Way Eating Meat Could Be Linked To Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the protective tissue that surrounds nerves, changing the way your brain communicates with the rest of your body (via Mayo Clinic). This attack on the central nervous system may eventually lead to permanent damage to the nerves. Symptoms of MS include numbness, weakness, lack of coordination, tingling sensations, some vision problems, and fatigue.

While the cause of MS is still unknown, experts know that genetics may play a part in developing in some people, and having other autoimmune diseases may increase the risk of developing the disease, too, per the Mayo Clinic. Low levels of vitamin D may also be a risk factor. This ties into the reasoning that people who live farther away from the equator and get less sun exposure are also at risk, per the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Studies have shown that smoking increases the risks of developing severe MS with rapid progression; obesity in childhood has also been studied as a risk of developing MS later (via National Multiple Sclerosis Society). It is still not clear why MS affects some people and not others. However, new research may help expand what we currently know.

A diet high in meat may increase multiple sclerosis risk

Scientists know that autoimmune diseases are linked to gut bacteria, and what we eat and drink may impact that bacteria. A 2022 study published in EBioMedicine found a correlation between eating more meat (plus changes in the gut ecology) and worsening MS symptoms in patients. One of the researchers on the study, Dr. Yanjiao Zhou at UConn Health School of Medicine, said, "We found a number of gut bacteria associated with MS and severity of disability of MS patients. We also found increased autoimmune markers and signature metabolites in MS. But what is really interesting is how these systems connect with each other, and how diet is involved in these connections," (via EurekAlert!).

In a press release published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the researchers admitted that the connection was not conclusive because many healthy people consume large amounts of meat. However, they pointed out that the study suggested that something goes wrong in the digestive system of people with MS, and that seems to be associated with the consumption of meat.