Study Finds Link Between Dairy Consumption and Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Is there a link between cow's milk and autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Could there be a link between the consumption of dairy products and multiple sclerosis (MS)? A new study from the University of Bonn sheds light on that question. Image courtesy of Health Europa.

A new study from the University of Bonn in Germany has revealed a link between the consumption of dairy products and multiple sclerosis (MS), reports Science Daily.

The researcher who led the study, Stefanie Kürten, a professor or neuroanatomy at the University Hospital Bonn, is considered to be an expert on MS, an autoimmune disease that often has debilitating and disabling symptoms. Kürten says it was her patients themselves that prompted her theory that there could be a link between the consumption of dairy products and MS symptoms.

“We hear again and again from sufferers that they feel worse when they consume milk, cottage cheese, or yogurt,” Kürten explained. “[So] we injected mice with different proteins from cow’s milk. We wanted to find out if there was a protein that they were responding to with symptoms of disease,” she said.

The myelin sheath of healthy mice who do not have demyelinating disease, as shown under a microscope.
In healthy mice, the myelin sheath (black) fits snugly as a compact layer around nerve fibers. Image courtesy of Prof. Kürten/the University of Bonn.

Her team’s research had some interesting results: when they administered the cow’s milk protein casein to mice, together with an effect enhancer, the mice went on to develop neurological disorders. A microscopic look at the mice’s nerve fibers showed damage to the myelin sheath, which is the insulating layer that gets damaged by the body’s immune response in patients with MS.

Rittika Chunder, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Kürten’s research team, explains: “We suspected that the reason [for the damage] was a misdirected immune response, similar to that seen in MS patients.” “The body’s defenses actually attack the casein, but in the process they also destroy proteins involved in the formation of myelin.”

The myelin sheath of mice injected with casein is looser, as shown under a microscope.
In mice injected with casein, the structure of the myelin sheath loosens, and sometimes is missing altogether. Image courtesy of Prof. Kürten/the University of Bonn.

So why would one’s body attack the casein, the protein found in milk, to begin with? The researchers theorize that presumably, the multiple sclerosis patients studied developed an allergy to casein at some point in their lives as a result of consuming milk. Then, the immune system mistook a protein called MAG, which is important for myelin production, with casein.

“We compared casein to different molecules that are important for myelin production,” Chunder explained. “In the process, we came across a protein called MAG. It looks markedly similar to casein in some respects – so much so that antibodies to casein were also active against MAG in the lab animals.”

So, if you have MS, should you avoid milk and other dairy products altogether? Not necessarily, say the researchers, as this only affects MS patients who are allergic to cow’s milk casein.

“We are currently developing a self-test with which affected individuals can check whether they carry corresponding antibodies,” said Kürten. “At least this subgroup should refrain from consuming milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese.”

Another multiple sclerosis study out of Harvard University has pointed to the Epstein-Barr virus being the trigger for the demyelinating autoimmune disease. And, the MS Society of Canada has published vitamin D recommendations, due to the link between vitamin D deficiency and MS, demonstrating that there isn’t necessarily one catch-all cause of MS.

Still, Kürten’s research has opened an interesting conversation for further studies related to the link between diet and autoimmune disease – and many leading physicians and scientists believe that there is, in fact, a link. Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician who has MS herself, published a book called The Wahls Protocol about how she used Paleo eating principals to put her MS symptoms into remission.

For all of our readers with multiple sclerosis: what do you think about the new research about the link between dairy and MS? Do you follow a certain diet to control your MS symptoms? Let us know in the comments below!

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