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07 November 2015

Red meat: why humans get MS and other primates don’t

Professor of Immunobiology Dr Bert t’Hart has proposed that regular consumption of red meat by humans explains why we get MS and other non-human primates don’t.

Extraordinary! Dutch Professor of Immunobiology and long-time expert researcher in primate models of multiple sclerosis, Dr Bert t’Hart has proposed that regular consumption of red meat by humans explains why we get MS and other non-human primates (monkeys, chimpanzees, etc) don’t.

It has long been known that humans are the only primates to develop MS, but MS can be easily induced experimentally in other primates. Prof t’Hart has done a lot work in the area, showing that genetic differences between humans and other primates don’t really explain this apparent anomaly, as other primates share basically the same genes as humans when it comes to the important immune-related genes associated with higher MS risk in humans.

However, when examining the respective genetic structures of humans and other primates, one thing did stand out to Prof t’Hart. Of all the primates, only humans have lost the ability through evolution make a particular compound in their bodies, that being an acid called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). So what is the relevance of this?

Actually, human autopsy studies show that this substance Neu5Gc is found in a lot of human tissues, but gets there only because we eat it by consuming red meat, particularly from beef, pork and lamb, on a regular basis. One result of not being able to make this substance is that when we ingest it, the microbes in our gut make antibodies against it, which then attach to the tissues where Neu5Gc is found and cause inflammation.

No prizes for guessing one of the tissues where this Neu5Gc is found, the blood-brain-barrier! Binding of these antibodies here causes damage to the blood-brain-barrier, a key initial step in MS development. Another key place this Neu5Gc is found is in the axons of nerve cells in the brain; here degeneration can be precipitated by this antibody response.

Professor t’Hart concludes by proposing ‘that daily consumption of meat from livestock should be regarded as an environmental risk factor for MS’. This fits very clearly within the paradigm proposed by OMS and the many, many scientists around the world who have shown that MS incidence in humans increases wherever red meat is frequently eaten. It also fits neatly with the OMS therapeutic approach of abandoning red meat consumption. It is gratifying to see scientists investigating these important areas, and adds further weight to the OMS approach.

It also fits neatly with the recent World Health Organization’s advice to avoid red meat consumption because it causes cancer. 

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