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Food allergies linked to increased disease activity in MS

Allergic patients had more relapses and more likely to show further nerve damage on scans

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Food allergies are associated with heightened levels of disease activity in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), research* published online in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry shows.

Both genetic and environmental factors are thought to have a role in the development of MS. Allergies to pollen, dust mites, grass, and pets; drugs; and foods, such as dairy products, shellfish, wheat, and nuts, have been suggested as potential risk factors, but the evidence to date has been inconclusive. The researchers assessed possible links between environmental, drug, and food allergies and MS flare-ups and evidence of disease activity on MRI scans in 1349 adults with the condition.

All the participants were part of the Comprehensive Longitudinal Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (CLIMB) in the US, and had provided detailed information on any food, drug, or environmental allergies and associated symptoms between 2011 and 2015.

Some 427 had no known allergy, while 922 had one or more allergies. Of these, 586 had an environmental allergy; 238 had a food allergy; and 574 were allergic to prescribed drugs.

The researchers added up the cumulative number of relapses each participant had had over the course of their illness, which averaged 16 years, and included any MRI scan evidence of disease activity as well as patients’ own assessments of their symptom severity on their last clinic visit.

Initial analysis indicated that any allergy was associated with a 22 times higher rate of cumulative disease bouts, but when potentially influential factors were taken into account, this difference disappeared.

However, when compared with those patients with no known allergy, food allergy was associated with a cumulative rate of disease flare-ups that was 27 times higher, even after adjusting for potentially influential factors.

Any type of allergy was associated with higher odds of active disease, as detected on an MRI scan at the last clinic visit, but a food allergy was associated with more than twice the likelihood of active disease compared with no allergy.

No associations were observed for symptom severity or disability with any type of allergy.

The researchers said: “Our findings suggest that MS patients with allergies have more active disease than those without, and that this effect is driven by food allergies.”

*Fakih R, Diaz-Cruz C, Chua AS, et al. Food allergies are associated with increased disease activity in multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry Published Online First: 18 December 2018. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2018-319301

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