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Will wine increase my chances of developing multiple sclerosis?


Douglas De Jesus
Posted: December 1, 2014

Q: Multiple sclerosis runs in my family. I don't have it, but will wine increase my chance of getting it?

A: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system and disrupts the brain's ability to communicate with the body. Its cause is unknown, and many scientists believe that environmental factors may trigger it. Several studies have shown that cigarette smoking, for example, might lead to the onset of MS.

Some research, too, has focused on the possible effects of alcohol. In two studies published this year, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that alcohol consumers were less likely than nondrinkers to develop MS.

In fact, "there was a clear dose response," Dr. Anna Karin Hedström, an author of the studies, said in a statement. "Those with the highest alcohol consumption"—defined here as more than 9 drinks per week for women and more than 14 drinks per week for men—"had a reduction in risk of developing MS of about 50 percent." She added that lower levels of alcohol consumption also seemed to indicate a reduced risk of MS, but it was not as pronounced as in the heavier drinkers.

Although subjects in these studies drank wine, the effects of wine were not observed in isolation. However, possible mechanisms by which alcohol might protect against MS suggest that wine might be especially protective. Hedström hypothesized that alcohol's cardiovascular benefits may be the key factor in her team's results. Meanwhile, a 2011 study from Belgium found that alcohol could alleviate symptoms among patients already suffering from MS; those scientists proposed wine's anti-inflammatory antioxidants as one possible mechanism.

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