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Healthy Diet Is Good for the Brain, Finds Society-Funded Study of People with MS

June 10, 2021

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (New York City) and colleagues have shown, for the first time, that eating more healthy foods – specifically, those included in the “MIND” diet, designed to focus on brain health – is associated with higher MRI-detected brain tissue integrity among people within 5 years of being diagnosed with MS. This study warrants follow up to confirm and extend the findings to people later in the course of their MS, but it adds to the growing body of evidence that taking control of diet and nutrition is crucial to improving outcomes for people living with MS. This research was partly funded by a research grant from the National MS Society.
  • What is the best diet for people with MS? What difference does diet make in the disease course? Efforts are underway to answer these questions with rigorous studies, such as this one, which looked for an association between what people with MS eat and what their MRI brain scans say about how their brains were handling damage caused by MS immune attacks.
  • Researchers examined a study cohort of 185 people with MS who were diagnosed within the past five years. Participants responded to detailed questionnaires on diet and underwent imaging scans. The investigators compared components of people’s diets and the benefits of those who were eating more of the “good” foods (like leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, and fish) and fewer of the “bad” foods (like fried foods, butter, cheese, red and processed meats and sweets) defined by the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).
  • The MIND diet focuses on brain health and combines aspects of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Studies have suggested this diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and help older individuals retain cognitive function.
  • The researchers found that those who ate more healthy components of the MIND diet and fewer of the unhealthy components tended to have more preserved brain tissue in the thalamus, a critical relay station in the brain. They also reported that higher intake of full-fat dairy products was associated with fewer MS brain lesions, and that more consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish was associated with greater structural integrity in other areas of the brain. No other associations for other foods were identified.
  • The authors note that this study is limited by the fact that it is restricted to those with early MS, and it takes only a one-time “snapshot” in time, but with funding from the National MS Society they are following this study group going forward to determine whether healthy diets continue to have benefits later in the course of their MS.
  • Diet is a factor of life with MS that you can change – learn more about diet and MS.
“Dietary factors and MRI metrics in early Multiple Sclerosis” by I.B. Katz Sand, Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, Yian Gu, Rachel Brandstadter, Claire S. Riley, Korhan Buyukturkoglu, Victoria M. Leavitt, Stephen Krieger, Aaron Miller, Fred Lublin, Sylvia Klineova, Michelle Fabian, and James F. Sumowski (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City) appeared in MS and Related Disorders on May 18, 2021, and is available via open access.

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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