Research shows link between multiple sclerosis and healthy food choices

Posted 5 years ago by Sam Bartlett
New study links diet high in vegetables and fish to lower risk of multiple sclerosis. [Source: Shutterstock]
New study links diet high in vegetables and fish to lower risk of multiple sclerosis. [Source: Shutterstock]

A diet high in vegetables and fish may be associated with a lower risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study by Western Australia’s Curtin University has found.

A healthy dietary pattern associates with a lower risk of a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination, published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal this month, found a link between a high intake of healthy foods, such as vegetables and fish, and the risk of central nervous system demyelination, a precursor to MS.

Dr Lucinda Black, a lead author of the study, says they wanted to see if there were any significant correlations between food intake and a high risk of developing MS.

“There are a number of known environmental risk factors for MS, including low vitamin D status and low sun exposure, smoking, and a history of glandular fever, and we were intrigued to see whether diet and food intake also played a significant role,” she says.

MS is a condition that affects the central nervous system, where myelin (protective sheaths that protect nerve fibres) become damaged, causing lesions and scarring. With 2.5 million people around the world estimated living with the disease, it can affect cognitive, motor and sensory function, and is considered very unpredictable.

The team of researchers reviewed data from the Ausimmune Study, conducted in multiple centres across Australia.

Their results came after looking at two dietary patterns. One was a diet high in poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables and legumes, while the other was a ‘Western’ style diet high in meat and dairy.

They found that consuming a diet high in vegetables and fish was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of MS, while the ‘Western’ diet had no valid association of reduced risk.

“We found that there is a strong need to improve nutrition education currently available for people at high risk of MS onset, as this may be beneficial in helping them follow a healthy diet and potentially reducing their risk,” Dr Black says.

The significant reduction of risk in those that adopt a healthier diet is especially relevant to people who do not consume many of these foods, as early intervention could delay or prevent onset of MS.

This comes after a report by the School of Public Health at Curtin University, of which Dr Black also co-authored, that shows health professionals are not informing those with MS of the importance of following national dietary guidelines set out for the disease.

Dietary responses to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis: a qualitative study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition last month, shows a lack of general dietary advice for people who have just been diagnosed with the disease, and suggests further information and research is needed.

Other research has been targeting MS and dietary or lifestyle changes, including one published by BMC Neurology in June.

Environment exposures and the risk of multiple sclerosis in Saudi Arabia involved a case-control study of 614 people, half of which have MS and half considered healthy adults in regions of Saudi Arabia.

Results showed family history of MS was associated with a higher risk, as well as having a diet high in fast-food. Lower risk associations included sun exposure during early childhood and young adulthood, as well as drinking coffee daily and eating at least five servings of fruit during the week.

There is no known cure for MS, but further research on the disease could have positive outcomes for those at high risk.