University of Vermont researchers suggests that diets high in sodium may be a novel risk factor in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
The study found that high salt intake may influence immune cells that cause the disease for which there is currently no cure. Disrupting the communication between the brain and other parts of the body, MS affects people in unpredictable ways. It may impair walking and even cause difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment.
The researchers noted that dietary salt is likely just one of the many environmental factors contributing to this complex disease, and very much influenced by one's genetic background.
"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 one of the researchers Dimitry Krementsov from University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, US.
To make this discovery, Krementsov and colleagues fed a high salt diet or a control diet to genetically different groups of mice.
Researchers then induced a disease in these mice that mimics human MS. In one genetic group, both males and females fed a high salt diet showed worse clinical signs of the disease.
"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, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal
where the study was published.
"This report helps shed light on what can go wrong in individuals with genes that make one susceptible to autoimmune disease," Weissmann noted.