New Australian research has found people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) who maintain a healthy lifestyle report a lower incidence and severity of depression.
The study conducted by the University of Melbourne’s Dr Claudia Marck and Menzies Institute for Medical Research’s Dr Ingrid van der Mei is the first to find the majority of people with MS are not meeting healthy lifestyle recommendations.
Behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of physical activity are contributing to poor mental health, with up to 40 percent of people with MS experience depression, nearly double the general population
Over 1,500 people participating in the study completed a survey online and only three percent met all five healthy lifestyle requirements of nutrition, physical activity, body weight, smoking and alcohol consumption.
Head of Research at MS Research Australia, Dr Julia Morahan says studies like these are vital to improving our understanding of MS and providing scientific evidence to help people with MS, their families and carers make informed choices about lifestyle factors.
“From our interactions with the MS community, we know that people with MS have a great interest in whether lifestyle changes might be beneficial in assisting to manage their MS.
“This type of research also underpins work undertaken by MS Research Australia and MS Australia so we can advocate in an evidence-based way on behalf of people with MS.
Dr Morahan says both the effect of the disease progress on the brain and some medications contribute to the increased rate of depression and anxiety in people living with MS.
“MS is a chronic illness, so it is not surprising that having MS may be accompanied by feelings of depression or anxiety.”
She says MS Research Australia and other MS organisations provide a great deal of information both online and through other sources about the role of lifestyle factors in MS.
“MS Research Australia and MS Australia both endorsed the report on Brain Health: Time Matters in MS, which sets out six positive lifestyle choices to help people with MS maximise lifelong brain health – avoid smoking, improve cardiovascular fitness, maintain a healthy weight, undertake intellectually enriching activities, limit alcohol and minimise other medical conditions.
“Following a recent workshop on this topic, we have been working with health professionals, researchers and others to get the message out about lifestyle factors to the MS community.
“We know this is an area of great importance to the MS community as it provides a mechanism for people with MS to take control and potentially minimise the impact of MS on their lives,” Dr Morahan says.
Further study is needed to understand if modifying lifestyle factors can be a potential treatment option for people with MS experiencing depression and anxiety.
To read the full report click here.