Is the hygiene hypothesis relevant for the risk of multiple sclerosis?

Acta Neurol Scand. 2017 Nov;136 Suppl 201:26-30. doi: 10.1111/ane.12844.


The hygiene hypothesis, suggesting that low exposure to pathogens early in life can increase the risk for immune-mediated diseases, has been proposed as an explanation for the increase in incidence of allergy and autoimmune diseases in industrialized countries during the last decades. Several aspects of the hygiene hypothesis have been related to MS. Already in 1966, the risk of MS was suggested to be higher in individuals with high hygienic standard during childhood. Further, an episode of infectious mononucleosis is an independent risk factor for MS and can be regarded as an indicator of low exposure to pathogens early in life, as infection with Epstein-Barr virus often is asymptomatic when it occurs in young children. Conflicting results have been reported regarding number of siblings, attendance in a day care center and exposure to animals during childhood in relation to MS risk, but common childhood infections and vaccinations do not seem to influence the risk of MS. In line with the hygiene hypothesis, two large meta-analyses have recently shown that infection with Helicobacter pylori is negatively correlated with MS. Moreover, a protective influence of helminth infection on MS has been observed in several, small clinical studies, but more knowledge is needed before a potential role of helminth-derived therapy in MS is determined. Also, it has been hypothesized that infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii could be protective against MS.

Keywords: helminth-derived therapy; multiple sclerosis; the hygiene hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child
  • Helicobacter pylori / immunology
  • Helminthiasis / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hygiene Hypothesis*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Risk Factors