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Research Shows Link Between Salt, Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Updated: August 29, 2014
A new study conducted in Argentina suggests that too much salt in the diet might play a role in symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) worsening. According to Dr. Mauricio Farez, lead researcher for the Raul Carrea Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires study, there are actually several contributing environmental factors linked to MS such as Epstein Barr virus infection, vitamin D, and smoking but now, it appears high salt intake could be yet another.
MS is a neurological disease with common symptoms that include poor balance, weakness, numbness, visual problems, and trouble with memory and other brain function. One particular form of MS referred to as relapsing-remitting in which symptoms come and go, was the main focus of the study. Over the years, numerous studies have been done many beneficial to understanding this disease better but with this new information, researchers found that salt might compromise response from the immune system.
Dr. Farez goes on to say that while it appears there is an association between high salt intake and worsening symptoms of MS, it does not show that salt actually causes the disease to develop. The focus of this small study was to observe the link between salt intake and the activity of MS and while the information gathered is extremely helpful, he states that further and larger studies to include different populations are definitely needed.
As part of the Argentinian study, levels of sodium, the primary component of salt was analyzed. However, vitamin D and creatinine was also included. For this study, levels of all three components were measured in the urine and blood of 70 patients with relapsing-remitting MS. Creatinine was important to include in the study because it is used as an inflammation marker whereas vitamin D has already been proven to have a connection with the disease.
Intake of sodium was broken down into three levels to include 2 grams a day, between s and 4.8 grams a day, and more than 4.8 grams a day. Currently, the recommended daily level of sodium needed to prevent heart disease is between 1.5 and 2.5 grams a day, which at the highest recommendation 1equates to less than a half teaspoon of table salt per day.
Researchers discovered that the group of people consuming 2 to 4.8 and 4.8 and higher grams of sodium a day were four times more likely to experience worsened symptoms of MS compared to those in the group consuming just 2 grams.
Participants underwent x-rays and scans of the brain so the disease’s progression could be checked. This too showed increased risk of worsening symptoms, at 3.4 times, for those consuming the higher levels of sodium compared to the group of people who consumed 2 grams a day.
With this study, the intake of salt was estimated from sodium that had been excreted in samples of urine, which was provided by the people in the study three times over a nine-month period. All participants were followed for two years and after taking various factors into consideration to include gender, age, weight, length of time having been diagnosed, smoking vs. non-smoking, vitamin D, and even current treatment, the link between the worsening of MS symptoms and salt still existed.
A second group consisting of 52 patients with MS underwent the exact same tests, which supported findings from the first group. Although it is too soon to advise patients with MS to reduce salt intake, Dr. Farez believes this new information could be beneficial when used as a basis for future clinical studies. The report from the Argentinian study was recently published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.
Vice President of healthcare delivery and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Nicholas LaRocca, agrees the influence of salt pertaining to people with MS is quite interesting. He goes on to say that no cause and effect can be assigned at this stage but it seems as if both activity and progression of this disease has some type of connection to salt.
At this time, the mechanism for this connection is a mystery, although LaRocca believes the body’s immune system may be more prone to this neurological disease due to high salt intake. However, he too feels additional studies are critical to fully understand how salt in the diet affects people living with MS. Of course, consuming high levels of salt is unhealthy for everyone, whether MS is involved or not.