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Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Lower Risk of Having a First Clinical Diagnosis of Central Nervous System Demyelination

November 2, 2015

• An ongoing study on MS risk factors in Australia found that eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish but not from plants, was associated with a decreased risk of developing a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination (an episode that indicates a high risk of MS). Intake of other types of dietary fat or fat quantity was not associated with this risk.
• This team is continuing to follow the group to determine if there is a similar effect on the course of MS.
• The team, led by Samuel Hoare (The Australian National University) has published results in MS Journal (published online September 11, 2015).

Background: Fat is an essential nutrient for the body. While some fats are deemed “bad,” others, such as polyunsaturated fats, actually help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. These polyunsaturated fats — and the omega-3 fatty acids they contain — have been the focus of MS studies with some evidence pointing to benefits for relapsing-remitting MS.

The Ausimmune study was undertaken with co-funding from the National MS Society to investigate sun exposure and vitamin D levels in people who had not yet been diagnosed with MS, but who had experienced a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination, more commonly called CIS. CIS (clinically isolated syndrome) is a syndrome in which a person experiences a single neurological event suggestive of myelin damage, such as numbness, coordination problems, or decrease in vision in one eye, and also shows MRI findings suggestive of MS. People with CIS may never develop definite MS, or it can be a prelude to being diagnosed with definite MS.

The Study: In this study, the Ausimmune investigators collected information on dietary intake from 267 people with CIS and 517 controls without CIS. Using several questionnaires, the team ascertained fatty acid intake from food in the 12 months before enrollment in the study.  Fatty acid intake from supplements, if any, was not assessed.

The results show that a significant decrease in the risk of developing CIS was associated with a higher daily intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly those obtained from eating fatty fish.

The team, led by Samuel Hoare (The Australian National University) published these results in MS Journal (published online September 11, 2015).

Next Steps: The Ausimmune team notes that it is continuing to follow this group, administering repeated dietary questionnaires, to determine if there is a benefit of polyunsaturated fatty acids on the course of MS.

Read more about Omega-3 fatty acids and MS.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

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