October 11, 2018 | News | Living with MSMS Research

Researchers update dietary advice for multiple sclerosis – ECTRIMS 2018

Highlights from the 34th congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), OCTOBER 10-12, Berlin, Germany – There is new evidence that some dietary changes may provide some benefits to people with MS, according to research presented at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ECTRIMS). ECTRIMS is the largest scientific meeting of the year for MS researchers and is running this week in Berlin.

Many people try to eat healthier when they are diagnosed with MS. An Australian study found that when first diagnosed, 42% of people were eating a Western diet, which includes processed meats, fast food/take-out, fried foods, beer and alcohol (Simpson and colleagues. ECTRIMS 2018; abstract P365). After diagnosis, the proportion of people eating this way dropped to 29%. (The people who favoured the Western diet were more likely to be males, smokers and overweight.) In contrast, the proportion of people who ate a ‘Prudent’ diet, which includes whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, fish (not fried) and wine, increased from 29% to 38%. (The Prudent people were more likely to be female, middle-aged, and taking omega-3 supplements.)

Does healthy eating make a difference to MS? A study at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore asked people with MS to calculate their Healthy Eating score (www.cnpp.usda.gov/), then compared the results with the person’s level of disability as rated by the doctor and the people themselves (Fitzgerald and colleagues. ECTRIMS 2018; abstract P364). Those who had a healthier diet had faster walking speeds, better mental processing and better hand dexterity compared to people with the poorest-quality diet.

A separate study in New York found that eating more monounsaturated fats was associated with less MS-related tissue damage in the brain (Katz Sand and colleagues. ECTRIMS 2018; abstract P450). The evidence for most diet is sketchy at best, but is strongest in favour of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, olive oil, fish, avocadoes and nuts (Mische & Mowry. Curr Treat Options Neurol 2018;20:8). The New York study adds to the evidence, with the suggestion that a Mediterranean diet may have a protective effect for the brain.

Maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge for people with MS, especially you’re having difficulties getting around. While obesity during the teenage years has been associated with a higher risk of developing MS, obesity wasn’t believed to influence the course of illness once MS developed. However, a new study has found that abdominal obesity (waist measurement) is a problem (Fitzgerald and colleagues. ECTRIMS 2018; abstract P409). The researchers obtained data from over four thousand people listed in the NARCOMS registry and compared waist measurements and disability scores. They found that people with abdominal obesity had a 60% greater risk of developing severity rather than mild disability. Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist measurement of 102 cm (40 inches) for men, and 89 cm (35 inches) for women. Abdominal obesity is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes – further incentives for trying to maintain a healthier weight with regular exercise and a better diet.

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