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Do Sugary Beverages Increase MS Severity? Does MS Worsen After Pregnancy? These and Other Studies to be Featured at Upcoming AAN Meeting

March 7, 2019

  • Intriguing study results related to diet, pregnancy, and many other research results will be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on May 4-10.
  • In-depth information about these studies will not be available until the investigators present their findings during the meeting.
  • The National MS Society will be providing reports summarizing significant results to be presented.
The Academy issued press releases this week highlighting two MS-related studies:
Sugary Beverages May Be Tied to MS Severity:  Dr. Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD (St. Josef Hospital, Bochum, Germany) and colleagues administered a questionnaire on diet to 135 people with MS, and compared participants’ diets to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which recommends whole grains, fruits/vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, and legumes and limits foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar. The team also measured participants’ level of disability using the standard EDSS disability scale.

According to the press release, overall, the study did not show a link between diet and disability, but did show a specific link between disability and the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., sodas, flavored juices and sweetened teas and coffees). The study found that participants who consumed an average of 290 calories of these beverages per day were five times more likely to have severe disability than people who seldom drank sugar-sweetened beverages.

Because the study assessed participants’ diets at the same time as disability, it is unclear whether these beverages contribute to increased disability or whether more severe disability reduces the ability to maintain a healthy diet.

Pregnancy and relapse: Dr. Annette Langer-Gould (Kaiser Permanente Southern California) and a team funded by the National MS Society reviewed the records from Kaiser Permanente Southern and Northern California databases and identified 466 pregnancies which occurred in 375 women with MS. They surveyed the women about treatment, breastfeeding and relapses.

According to the press release, the study showed that relapse rates fell during pregnancy (as previously established by other studies), then increased afterward, but not to pre-pregnancy levels until four to six months after birth. Women who breastfed exclusively (i.e., the child received only breast milk for at least two months) were 40% less likely to have a relapse than women who did not breastfeed or who supplemented breast milk with formula within two months after delivery. Of women who breastfed exclusively, 46 out of 167 resumed their MS treatment (most commonly interferon-betas and glatiramer acetate) while breastfeeding.

Fewer participants were treated with natalizumab or fingolimod before pregnancy, so the study does not address the risks of stopping these drugs in order to get pregnant or of breastfeeding while taking these medications.

Read more about wellness/lifestyle research in MS

Read more about risk factors and who gets MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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