How Margarine and its seed oil filled brothers give us Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was once a rare disease that mainly affected Scandinavians or people who otherwise didn’t get much sunlight.  But that has all changed.  Its prevalence is accelerating wildly and sunlight is much less relevant than what you shove in your gob.  If you’d rather not get MS then it is vital you avoid consuming the Omega-6 fats found in most processed foods.

Our central nervous system is our electrical wiring.  If our brain wants to tell our fingers to move, an electrical signal is sent along the nervous system and the fingers move.  Just like electrical cables nerve cells have an insulating cover (called myelin).  Electrical signals travel much faster (and are much more certain to get to the destination) in insulated nerves than in non-insulated nerves.

Seventy percent of the insulation is fat and a fair chunk of that is polyunsaturated fat.  Unfortunately this means that the insulation is prone to damage from oxidation.  But not to worry, we have a perfectly good repair system.  The cells which make myelin (called oligodendrocytes for those who want to get all technical) are very handy at continuously patching up any damage.

MS is disease caused by our immune system attacking and destroying the myelin insulation.  This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate and it results in an array of symptoms which range from fatigue, physical incoordination, spasms, partial blindness as well as learning and memory problems (depending on which part of the nervous system is damaged).

Unfortunately people with MS can’t completely repair the damage being inflicted by their immune system and over time the cumulative damage means that the symptoms become progressively worse.

According to the World Health Organisation the biggest risk factors for MS are living in a place with little sunlight or a place exposed to processed food (the Western Diet).  In the 1950s the biggest risk factor by a country mile was latitude, but as processed food has infiltrated the diet of more and more countries, those countries have caught up to the rates in countries with low sunlight exposure.   In Iran for example the incidence rate quadrupled in just the two decades between 1989 and 2008.  But there is (and always has been) plenty of sunlight there.

In countries exposed to the Western Diet for most of the last five decades (such as Australia), the number of new cases of the disease recorded per year (after adjusting for population increases) has also quadrupled.  Make no mistake MS is an epidemic on the march.

Our immune system attacks parts of the body largely because the component (T regulatory cells or just TRegs) which is supposed to stop that happening becomes disabled.  One of the most efficient ways to disable TRegs is to consume too much omega-6 fat.

The Western Diet is stuffed to the brim with Omega-6 fat courtesy of the steady replacement of animal fats with seed oils (such as canola, sunflower soybean etc).  So every time you eat processed food or tuck into fried food you are taking on a massive dollop of omega-6 fat.

For example if you were drop a serving (20g) of Praise Mayonnaise onto your bacon and egg sarnie you would be consuming around 5 grams of Omega-6 fat (just from the mayo).  That’s about three times what your body needs for the day (and that’s before we take into account the margarine, the bread, the grain fed bacon, the factory farmed egg or anything else you eat that day).

Sunshine (or, at least its ability to make us make Vitamin D) is a partial remedy to this problem because Vitamin D boosts the numbers of TRegs.  This gives us a fighting chance at stopping our own immune system in its tracks.  And that is why, before the advent of a seed oil filled diet, the exposure to sunlight, more or less determined your likelihood of having MS.

We aren’t born with a completely myelinated nervous system.  It takes us about 20 years to finish the job.  This means that when people move from a place with low rates of MS to places of high rates of MS (or the other way round), their age when they move is an important factor.  If they are over 15 when they move they will have the same risk of developing MS as the place where they were born.  If they are 10 or younger it will be the same as the place where they move to.

It’s likely that this strange age-related phenomenon is because of another characteristic of our seed oil filled diets.  Overconsumption of omega-6 fats causes the body to enter a state called oxidative stress.  This is where the highly reactive omega-6 fats overcome our anti-oxidant defences.  Oxidative stress is known to be lethal to the cells which produce our nerve insulation.

It is therefore probable that constant exposure to omega-6 fats while a child is growing those very cells, will result in insulation which is not up to spec.  And a weakened insulation makes them much more susceptible to the immune system attacks which will almost inevitably happen if they stay on that diet.

MS is a truly horrendous disease that is striking more people, younger.  It is clear that the cause is the massive increase in the use of seed (vegetable) oils in our food.  MS was once a disease that struck only susceptible people who were not exposed to enough sunlight.  Seed oils are now ensuring it is something that all of us must fear.

If you have MS, I’m sorry.  If you can stop eating seed oils (and get some Sun), it may help with symptoms.  If you don’t have MS, stop eating seed oils (and get some Sun) and you will dramatically reduce your chances of getting it.  If you have children, don’t let them anywhere near seed oils, ever, but especially not before they’re 20.

Graphic from:  WHO – Atlas multiple sclerosis resources in the world 2008.

Join the discussion 26 Comments

  • samual says:

    Hi interesting overlay but what about the chromosomal differential. Twice as many women get MS than men.
    For your above theory to be correct on correlation there must be a doubling effect on women.
    So first you have to prove women are twice susceptible to the effects of grains and omega 6s in your above described process then men.

  • David Gillespie says:

    You have anticipated my next article in this series Samual – in that one I will be focusing on why women are more susceptible to auto-immune diseases (including MS) and why those diseases go into remission during pregnancy – stay tuned.

  • Sandy says:

    Great article, David. I agree with you on the toxic effects of seed oils. One thing to note is that while Iran receives plenty of sunlight, Iranian women are likely vitamin D deficient because since the Iranian revolution in 1979 they have been prohibited from exposing their skin in public.

  • shaun rich says:

    Fuck I’m a man 39 yrs old who’s eaten margarine all his life and yes I have MS .
    BUT I have also eaten a lot of good natural food as well cooked in canola fuck why aren’t these facts available to us .
    its too late for me but my son ! NO THANK YOU

  • shaun rich says:

    Grammer is bad I mean thank you for in forming the layman !

  • fredt says:

    and then there is the shortage of omega 3 oil in our diets. This is what myelin should contain. Real fish, not farmed. Oh well. The world cannot support the present population. Some will live, some not so, it is fate. Oh well.

  • Linda M says:

    I have always wondered why some people got MS. I don’t have it.
    I have never eaten margarine or mayonnaise. I eat butter and cook with olive oil. I eat a lot of fish – both tinned and fresh.
    I hope what you write is correct because I don’t want MS.

  • Lisa Ruben says:

    Great info. Thank you. I don’t have MS but know some who do. Will pass info on. I only use butter, olive and coconut oil. Makes me feel much better. Never liked or ate margarine . My mom never fed us any fried foods ever. We are all extremely healthy. Thanks Mom.

  • Sid Davis says:

    I’ll venture forth an educated speculation as to why women have a higher incidence or MS.


    It is known that estrogen inhibits the absorption of iodine.

    Iodine has multiple functions in our bodies, and one is that it binds to polyunsaturated oils acting as an antioxidant. Iodine when it binds to polyunsaturated oils binds at the point where oxygen would otherwise bind and damage (burn) the oil.

    As a matter of fact, the lab test of whether a fat is saturated, monosaturated, or polyunsaturated is to measure how much iodine it absorbs. Saturated fat does not absorb iodine; the more double carbon bonds in the fat’s carbon chain, the more iodine is absorbed. Each fat has a characteristic iodine number.

    Women after the onset of puberty, have a higher incidence of all the diseases related to iodine deficiency. Polyunsaturated oils in their own right are damaging, but they also contribute to iodine deficiency diseases by binding what little iodine may be available.

  • Susan Staincliffe says:

    I have had MS diagnosed at age 40. I am now 66 and I am moving to my new home in the Madeira Islands to get more sun and a healthy lifestyle.

    I am also a retired physiotherapist and for any one reading this I can tell you that regular walking reduces my fatigue and pain and improves my overall ability to manage this disease. I shall try cutting out Omega6 from the diet and report back in 12 months time-

    Watch this space

  • Samantha Jones says:

    Hi David,

    Firstly thank you for the research and the articles you write. My Mum was diagnosed with MS at 45, just over 2 years ago. She grew up in the North of Western Australia, plenty of sun up there. Since her diagnosis and my sister’s diagnosis of chronic kidney disease we have almost cut processed food entirely. We grow what we can organically and stay away from chain supermarkets when it comes to meat and veggies. We have all noticed a huge difference in our health, weight and general well being. It makes me wonder what else our food is doing to us.

    Does coconut oil fit into the same category as vegetable oil?
    Thanks again for your hard work, I look forward to the next article.


  • David Gillespie says:

    Coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil are all fruit oils Samantha – they are all fine to use.

  • Wendy Smith says:

    Hi David,
    are the softened butters OK to use ?

  • David Gillespie says:

    The only which is not a blend with a seed oil is Mainland spreadable

  • Sue says:

    There are certainly sex differences in autoimmune disease, but there’s no evidence of the influence of iodine.

    Overall, autoimmune disease (including MS) is much more common in women, but the organs affected are also different between the sexes. Women are much more likely than men to get rheumatoid arthritis, Graves Disease (thyroid) and SLE, men are more likely to get myocarditis and ankylosing spondylitis.

    These differences ARE thiought to be mediated by sex hormones, but not via iodine.

  • Sue says:

    Linda – by far the two strongest influences on MS are genetics (family history of the disease) and sunlight exposure. Smoking is also a factor. If you don’t have any of these influences, the risk of developing MS is very tiny indeed.

  • Sue says:

    Shaun – there is good information about MS risk factors here:

    By far the greatest influence is genetic. Other factors include the place where you grew up (thought to be about sunlight and vitamin D) as well as smoking, and possibly also exposure to the virus that causes glanduar fever.

    There is some research looking at diet, but it doesn’t seem to be a stong influence, and other authors don’t agree with David’s take on this. Studies on fats and oils have been inconsistent, though there is some suggestion that fish oil may be protective.

    The strongest environmental factor appears to be related to Vitamin D.

  • Sue says:

    David. There are a couple of fundamental errors in your article.

    First, you start with “Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was once a rare disease that mainly affected Scandinavians or people who otherwise didn’t get much sunlight.”

    This is not the case. While the incidence of MS is increasing, it was never rare – MS is one of the most common neurological diseases.

    The you say “Its prevalence is accelerating wildly and sunlight is much less relevant than what you shove in your gob.”

    While the prevalence is increasing, it is not “accelerating wildly”. It is definitely not true to say that sunlight is less important than diet – this is NOT what the research continues to show. Smoking is another important factor, and the condition is more common in winter.

    Genetics (family history) and latitude continue to be by far the most important influences. There are conflicting results relating to diet – with most work looking at fish oil. There is also some evidence for a post-viral effect, especially in relation to Epstein-Barr virus.

    Twin studies and studies of adopted children have shown that identical twins of a person with MS have a much, much higher chance of developing MS (something like 300X) than fraternal twins raised on the same diet.

    There has certainly been research on diet and MS. Results include a greater risk in diets high in saturated fat, and a benefit for polyunsaturated fat. The Cochrane review of the topic, however, found no benefit from either PUFA or fish oil supplpements.

  • […] of the disease process for Motor Neuron Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Macular Degeneration, Multiple Sclerosis (and other auto-immune diseases) all cancers and lethal allergic […]

  • yes says:

    The WHO study you refer to has the below statement

    “This study definitively confirms that MS is a global disease and not a disease solely of the more developed “northern” and “western” countries.”

    this doesn’t align with yours…

    “According to the World Health Organisation the biggest risk factors for MS are living in a place with little sunlight or a place exposed to processed food (the Western Diet).”

  • David Gillespie says:

    How do you say those two statements are not aligned? I talk about risk factors and you quote something about whether it is a disease solely of northern and western countries. Surely the fact that I also mention an Iranian study should alert you to the fact I clearly don’t think its a disease ‘solely’ of Northern and Western countries.

  • eleanora austin says:

    Thankyou for making it all so simple. We always felt we were following a healthy diet but all the talk on what oils are what left us confused. We have also taken all the hidden and added sugar from our diet, thankyou for awakening us to all the bull that is fed to us. I cant say it enough….thankyou

  • sarah key says:

    The other important thing to say is that ingested vegetable oils are incorporated into the body’s membranes, right down to a cellular level. Because they are unstable they are prone to oxidative stress and this is thought to have a bearing on many of the disease processes, from arthritis to heart disease. As a physiotherapist, I am very interested in bodies that are difficult to rehabilitate and deliver from pain, and some are much more difficult than others, with inflammation hanging around. It’s important to remember too that many are the seed oils did not even exist 20 years ago and yet the supermarket shelves are lined with them these days. Unlike olive or coconut oil, the process of making seed oils involves boiling with solvents, bleaching, deodorising, un-gumming and colouring just to make them resemble the real thing. All this requires chemicals that the body can do without.

  • Frank says:

    Where are ANY facts in this article? Sham

  • David Gillespie says:

    Follow the links in the article to see the studies it is based on Frank

  • Celia Olson says:

    I was diagnosed in 1996, before symptoms started. I am a pianist, suddenly unable to open my hands wide enough to get 8 keys. Nobody in my family had MS, nor my grandparents. Last year a cousin younger than me had MS, she is 40. I have primary progressive MS. I do not walk for the last 18 years, I was born in 1962. I have had 6 strokes and 1 heart attack.The Rebif (beta-1a) did very little to help me. The medical team did even less. After roughly five unending years of trauma in the family my MS developed into progressive. There have been many changes in the last 3 to 4 years. Many falls, many fractured bones, and three moves all in five years. I have gone downhill. Considerably. We tried every shot available but nothing was working. There has been little if any progress in finding a reliable treatment for Multiple Sclerosis, I started on MS Herbal Treatment from Kycuyu Health Clinic, the herbal treatment immensely helped my Multiple Sclerosis condition, i had huge improvements.

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