This year we have seen a large increase in the focus of research into how lifestyle factors may benefit people living with multiple sclerosis.  In particular, studies investigating the effect of diet in MS have been more commonly reported (as predicted by MStranslate early in 2017).

Over the past week, one of the largest research projects in this area has been published in Neurology.  The paper, “Diet quality is associated with disability and symptom severity in multiple sclerosis”, was undertaken by researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine and used information from the North American Research Committee on MS (NARCOMS) registry.  This meant that a very large number of people with multiple sclerosis were participants in the project.  In fact, data from almost 7000 individuals was included in the analysis.

Each of the people that contributed to the study filled out a questionnaire that captured information about their diet.  Based on the responses to those questions, each participant is then given a score based on the ‘healthiness’ or ‘diet quality’ of their food intake.  As other things are also known to play a role in the outcomes of multiple sclerosis, these were also recorded.  This included factors such as smoking, physical activity, age, depression, pain and fatigue.

Using these answers, the researchers were able to draw the following conclusions:

    • Diets that had more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains and less added sugar and red meat was associated with a lower level of disability
    • A better diet quality was associated with less severe depression
    • An overall better healthy lifestyle was associated with less severe depression, pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment and disability

So what can we take from these findings?  As an individual study, this project benefits from the incredibly large number of participants.  These registries and databases are now allowing for much larger investigations to be conducted, as we have reported on previously with the clinical directory MSBase.

However, as with most lifestyle based trials, there are some limitations.  The two major ones to take note of are the difficulties associated with obtaining a detailed analysis of a person’s lifestyle from one-off questionnaires – this may lead to inaccuracies, such as not really allowing for a thorough understanding of their dietary approach across a longer-term.  Also, as the authors acknowledge, it is impossible from this work to really determine whether having a healthy lifestyle reduces disability progression or having greater disability progression prevents people from being able to adhere to better lifestyle practices.

In saying that, we also have to view these results in combination with all of the other information that is available in this area.  These findings are well supported by lots of other studies that have suggested that many benefits can be obtained from eating a healthy diet and undertaking regular physical exercise.  Therefore, despite the apparent limitations, we can see this as another piece of evidence that suggests diet, exercise and other lifestyle modifications should be forming a major part of any multiple sclerosis management plan.

The abstract for this study can be read in full here.

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