|MS is characterized by destruction of the protective sheath- called the myelin sheath- around nerves in the brain and the spinal cord. As a result, the transmission of nerve impulses to other nerves, muscles, and vital organs is interrupted. This impaired nerve function translates into symptoms such as difficulty in walking, abnormal, “pins and needles” sensations throughout the body; pain and loss of vision due to inflammation of the optic nerve, tremors, incoordination, paralysis, and impaired thinking and memory (2). In addition, muscle wasting, bladder dysfunction, fatigue, osteoporosis, and a host of other problems may develop either directly or indirectly due to this nerve damage.|
Although there is a genetic predisposition toward MS, as proven in studies of twins, only a third of those that are genetically susceptible will get MS, indicating there is still an outside factor involved (3). MS is more common in those born and raised above the 37th parallel (a line extending from Newport News, VA to Santa Cruz, CA); however, if a person moves to an area of low risk (i.e. below the 40th parallel) prior to adolescence, they assume the lower risk of their new location. These last points support the idea of an environmental exposure link to the disease.
If outside causes are to blame, then Oppenheim, an early 1900’s researcher, was the closest in his assertion that MS is caused by an environmental toxin. Other researchers of his day thought that there was a defect in the blood vessels or in the glial tissues. Pierre Marie, in the late 1800’s, felt that MS was caused by an infectious agent. However, despite all of the “infection” theories that have been tested over the past 150 plus years, not one- whether bacteria, virus, Chlamydia or scrapie-like agent- has proven to be the culprit.
So, let’s apply what we already know about MS and see if we truly know the cause of MS or not. Mycotoxins are chemicals made by fungi. They are found in grains that have been contaminated with fungi and mold. Some mycotoxins are used for medicinal purposes. Antibiotics, such as penicillin and the cephalosporin drugs, are fungal metabolites- they are mycotoxins. Alcohol is a mycotoxin. Aflatoxin, the most carcinogenic substance on earth, is a mycotoxin. The most commonly contaminated crops are peanuts, corn, and wheat.
Often, other foods such as barley, apples, sorghum and rye can be contaminated as well. Some mycotoxins are produced in our body by the yeast in our intestines or vaginal tract. In one study, 3 women severely symptomatic for vaginal candidiasis were found to have vaginal fluid samples with significant levels of a mycotoxin called gliotoxin (4). From our environment, we can be exposed to mycotoxins through countless routes: ingestion, inhalation, skin contact, etc. The question is, once inside the body, can these mycotoxins damage nerves? Let’s answer that question now.
We already know that, in MS, there is a loss of molecules called sphingolipids from the white matter in the central nervous system (5). What is not well known is the fact that mycotoxins can actually disrupt sphingolipid biosynthesis (6). Specifically, gliotoxin, as we mentioned above, on a slightly larger scale can induce nerve cell death (apoptosis).
Gliotoxin is a heat stable chemical made by Aspergillus, Candida, and other species of fungi. (7). Not coincidentally, scientists have recovered a heat stable toxin from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of MS patients. In this particular study, they took the CSF from MS patients, heat-treated it to destroy any infectious germs, and then exposed it to nerve cells in a laboratory culture. What happened? The nerve cells died! They called this heat-stable toxin “gliotoxin.”