High Salt Intake May Contribute to Multiple Sclerosis Development

Salt found to influence immune cells that cause the disease.

Salt found to influence immune cells that cause the disease.

A high sodium diet may contribute to an increased risk for developing multiple sclerosis (MS), a recent study suggests.

The study, published in the August 2015 issue of The FASEB Journal, found in mice with high salt diets that sodium may be a novel risk factor in MS development by influencing immune cells that cause the disease. The study did not directly implicate salt intake as a risk factor, but it was noted that dietary salt is likely one of many environmental factors that contribute to MS, which is heavily influenced by genetics.

"We hope to provide a comprehensive understanding of how and why environmental factors interact with individuals' unique genetic make up to influence autoimmune diseases such as MS," said researcher Dimitry N. Krementsov, PhD.

For the study, researchers assigned 3 genetically different groups of mice to receive either a high salt diet or a control diet before inducing a disease similar to MS in humans. In one genetic group, mice of both sexes fed a high salt diet showed worse clinical signs of MS.

In another genetic group, just females exhibited a negative response to salt. The final genetic group did not have a response to salt. The researchers found genetics to be a critical factor in MS development.

Mice that responded to salt experienced no direct changes in immune cell function, but did show signs of a weakened blood-brain barrier.

"As is the case with other things, you need to get enough salt so your body functions properly, but not too much or things start to go haywire," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. "This report helps shed light on what can go wrong in individuals with genes that make one susceptible to autoimmune disease. It also helps us understand how much salt is just right for any given individual."