The Link Between Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system, which typically fights off infections, mistakenly attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin controls the amount of glucose (blood sugar) within your bloodstream.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is also an autoimmune disease. In MS, the immune system attacks and destroys myelin, the protective covering of nerve cells, in the brain, spinal cord, or eyes.

The connection between T1D and MS continues to be investigated. Current research demonstrates an increased co-occurrence of these diseases.

This article examines the research, identifies the link between T1D and MS, and provides tips on reducing your risk of developing MS.

Person with multiple sclerosis deals with stress

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MS and Diabetes

Researchers reviewed several studies on the co-occurrence of MS and T1D and found the prevalence of T1D was higher in people with MS compared to the general population. The conditions share genetic factors as well; evidence shows a higher susceptibility to both diseases in first-degree relatives.

Studies have also shown that people who live in high latitudes are at increased risk of developing T1D and MS due to less sunlight and less vitamin D than those who live in lower latitudes. Studies show a lower risk of T1D and MS in people with higher vitamin D levels and increased sun exposure.

Both diseases are also thought to share the same immune system dysfunction. For example, both are considered to be T-cell diseases. T cells play a role in immune function.

Early MS Symptoms 

MS can be difficult to diagnose because no two people will have identical symptoms. Symptoms vary greatly and can come and go. People may experience few symptoms, while others can have many more. The most common symptoms are:

Reducing Your Risk of MS

Certain risk factors of MS will be primarily out of your control; these include age, ethnicity, genetics, and previous infections that may have triggered this immune reaction. However, there are also many ways you can reduce your risk.

Get Adequate Vitamin D

Observational studies have demonstrated that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of MS. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin responsible for calcium absorption and plays a major role in bone health. Vitamin D is also an important component of immune function and mood.

You can get vitamin D from foods (fortified foods, egg yolks, fatty fish, mushrooms). However, because there aren't enough foods with vitamin D, many people need sunlight and supplementation to get the recommended intake.

Consume Fatty Fish

Studies also have shown a reduced risk of MS in people who consume an adequate amount of fatty fish and cod liver oil. Researchers suggest being cautious when changing your diet and consider such factors as what foods are being replaced, which can impact the body.

Fatty fish may have other health benefits, such as protecting the heart. Eating fatty fish (3 ounces) twice a week is recommended. These include:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Black cod
  • Tuna
  • Whitefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel

Keep a Healthy Gut

There’s a proven relationship between the gut and brain and their role in neurological disease. It is thought that an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, also known as dysbiosis, can create inflammation and affect the gut and central nervous system (CNS). In MS specifically, researchers are looking at specific gut microbiota alterations associated with the disease.

A healthy gut needs a good balance of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics "feed" probiotics and are found in fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that keep harmful bacteria in check.

Foods rich in probiotics include fermented vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tofu, and kombucha. If you want to supplement, consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

Avoid Smoking

There is a link between smoking and MS. People who smoke are twice as likely to develop MS. Secondhand smoke exposure also increases the risk.

Smoking can make MS worse by impacting the effectiveness of specific treatments. If you are at increased risk of MS, avoiding smoking may help to prevent the disease.

Other Lifestyle Modifications

Maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and exercising each day are all positive lifestyle modifications that have been shown to reduce inflammation. These behaviors are also important for overall health.

MS Treatment

Treatment for MS depends on the person's symptoms and disease course. Some common treatments include behavioral modifications, such as a nutritious eating plan, exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments, like acupuncture, vitamin D supplementation, and cooling strategies are other courses of treatment.

People with MS need comprehensive care, which includes seeing different healthcare professionals to help manage symptoms and prevent relapse. In addition, people with MS may need certain medications; these can modify the disease course by slowing the progression of the disease, treat relapses, and manage symptoms.

Summary

Both T1D and MS are autoimmune diseases. Researchers are still trying to determine if the two have a clear connection. However, having one condition does not mean you will get the other. Uncontrollable risk factors such as genetics, environment, and infections, increase disease risk for both. Modifiable risk factors are also in your control, such as eating a well-balanced diet rich in fiber, daily movement, smoking cessation, and adequate sleep to help prevent your risk of developing MS.

A Word From Verywell

Having T1D increases your risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. The connection between T1D and MS is still being investigated. If you have T1D and are concerned about MS, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. Many of the same treatment options for T1D, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising, are the same lifestyle modifications that aid in preventing MS.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does MS affect blood sugar?

    Any stress on the body can impact blood sugars, causing them to rise. Therefore, if you have MS and T1D and are experiencing a flare, you may have elevated blood sugars. This is especially true if you take anti-inflammatory medications like steroids.

  • Can MS trigger diabetes?

    MS and diabetes share similar genetic, immunologic, and environmental factors. Researchers are still trying to investigate how and why they coexist, but it does appear that people with MS are at increased risk of developing diabetes and vice versa.

  • What are the early signs of MS?

    The most common symptoms early on appear to be vision problems, extreme fatigue, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, bladder problems, and bowel trouble. These can be symptoms of other conditions, too, so you must be examined by a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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