Wine's ability to ease inflammation may help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in some cases, according to a study by researchers from neurology and psychology clinics in Belgium. The team found that patients who suffer from the so-called relapse form of MS and also drank wine had less severe symptoms. But the impact of wine was limited and the reasons for the effects were unclear.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation, which occurs when the body's own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve or spinal cord. The causes are unknown; theories include a virus, genetics or environmental factors.
There are two major kinds of MS. In some patients, there are periods of remission, where the symptoms go away temporarily. This is called relapse MS. Other patients suffer from progressive MS, which continues without relief.
In the Belgian research, to be published in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Neurology, the team examined potential lifestyle choices that could be associated with MS. They examined 1,431 people with either type of MS and compared their symptoms to habits of consumption.
The researchers found that relapse MS sufferers who drank wine seemed to enjoy an observable "protective effect." Symptoms decreased. In the study, more than 80 percent of the participants drank up to seven glasses of wine per week. The same also held true for people who drink coffee or eat fish regularly. Cigarette smoking, on the other hand, did not help alleviate symptoms in either type of MS.
Lead author Marie D'Hooghe, a neurologist at Belgium's National Center for Multiple Sclerosis, said more research is needed to explain the results. "Because we have no longitudinal data on changes of consumption over time, these associations could indicate either causality or reverse causality," D'Hooghe told Wine Spectator. "In the latter case, this could mean that persons who have less progression of disability feel more comfortable to drink alcohol, including wine. This could also explain the association with coffee."
As for possible cause, the study does offer one suggestion—resveratrol, a compound found abundantly in red wine, is known to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. "In experimental models, [resveratrol] has been shown to protect against various neurological disorders," the study text states. Alcohol is also known to reduce inflammation. However, MS is a complicated ailment and the authors warn sufferers not to start drinking wine as a result of their research.