Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 00:14 GMT
Multiple sclerosis could be linked to difficulty in
processing iron and aluminium, a study has suggested.
Scientists at Keele University, Staffordshire, compared
levels of the metals in the urine of people with MS and others
without the condition.
Significantly higher levels than expected were found in both
Experts said the research was interesting, but MS was a
complex disease and more work was needed before a link could be
The study compared 10 MS patients with the
relapsing-remitting form of the disease and 10 who had the more
advanced secondary progressive form with 20 people who did not
They looked at iron levels because the metal has been linked
with the facilitation and acceleration of oxygenated damage.
It was found that iron levels were significantly higher in
people with MS, particularly so in those with the secondary
progressive form of the disease.
People with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease were
found to have very high levels of aluminium - up to 40 times
those seen in the group who did not have MS.
The levels are as high as those seen in people with a
condition known as aluminium intolerance.
MS is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system
turning in on itself and attacking the body's own tissues.
In MS, immune cells destroy the myelin sheath that surrounds
nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord and enables them to
Dr Christopher Exley, a bio-organic chemist at Keele, who ran
the study, said: "We know from animal studies that myelin is the
preferred target for aluminium.
"As myelin breaks down, something called myelin basic protein
is found in urine.
"It could be that aluminium is coming out with that. We are
going to do further tests to see if that is the case."
The present understanding is that developing MS is due to a
combination of having a genetic susceptibility and environmental
Dr Exley said: "We hypothesise that susceptibility genes may
have something to do with how iron is metabolised in the body -
something may be going wrong.
"And it may be that aluminium is a previously unrecognised
factor that exacerbates that problem, which then manifests
itself in some as MS."
Dr Lee Dunster, head of research and information at the MS
Society, said, "These are interesting and unexpected findings
but MS is a highly complex, multi-factoral disease and further
research in a larger study is needed to see how significant they