Immunological Factors

Scientists have found that MS is an immune-based disorder, but they increasingly believe that it is not just immunity but also degeneration that plays a part

What does research say about the link between MS and the immune system?

Scientists have found that MS is an immune based disorder, but they increasingly believe that it is not just immunity but also degeneration that play a part in the disease process – particularly in its progressive phases. There is evidence that nerve cell degeneration begins very early in MS and is not just a feature of the progressive phases.1,2 Researchers have pointed out that damage to the central nervous system is widespread in MS, is degenerative, and goes beyond demyelinating lesions.3,4 The accumulating loss of nervous tissue seems to be what makes the disease progressive. Evidence suggests that the immune-mediated inflammation and the neurodegeneration in MS are separate processes, right from the beginning of the disease. Many think that the distinction between immune and degenerative diseases of the nervous system is becoming blurred, and that both processes probably contribute to many neurological diseases, typified by MS.5,6

About the immune system

The immune system, a complex organization of cells and chemicals, is the basis of our defense against external invaders and toxins. The lymphocytes (white blood cells derived from bone marrow) are programmed either to:

  • Initiate an immune response to a threat (the Th1 response), usually through an inflammatory response, or
  • Dampen down that reaction (the Th2 response)

Th1 and Th2 responses are both necessary and must be kept in balance. MS is a Th1-predominant disease. Lifestyle factors that help magnify the Th1 response, thus making MS worse, include:

So to minimize Th1 responses, we look to Th2 magnifying factors, which include:

  • A plant-based diet
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Sun exposure and vitamin D
  • Meditation and other stress-modifying techniques
  • Exercise

Image by nelzajamal /Shutterstock


  1. Filippi M, Rovaris M, Inglese M, et al. Interferon beta-1a for brain tissue loss in patients at presentation with syndromes suggestive of multiple sclerosis: a randomised, double-blind,
  2. placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2004; 364:1489-1496
  3. Filippi M, Rocca MA. MRI evidence for multiple sclerosis as a diffuse disease of the central nervous system. J Neurol 2005; 252 Suppl 5:v16-v24
  4. Bruck W. The pathology of multiple sclerosis is the result of focal inflammatory demyelination with axonal damage. J Neurol 2005; 252 Suppl 5:v3-v9
  5. Bruck W. Inflammatory demyelination is not central to the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. J Neurol 2005; 252 Suppl 5:v10-v15
  6. Zipp F, Aktas O. The brain as a target of inflammation: common pathways link inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. Trends Neurosci 2006