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New Study Links Obesity to Faster Nerve Loss in People with MS

April 23, 2020

Johns Hopkins University researchers funded in part by the National MS Society report that people with MS who were obese experienced accelerated loss of optic nerve tissue compared to people of normal weight. The study followed 513 people with MS  for about four years. The authors suggest that, if confirmed, the findings show a link between a wellness factor – body weight -- and MS progression, and support studies that would track whether reducing weight can improve outcomes in MS.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has been increasingly used as a research tool to detect and track damage that occurs to the nerves in the back of the eye. OCT scanning is done with a small machine that can fit into an examining room, is relatively inexpensive, painless and well tolerated.
  • This team has previously shown that the rate of tissue thinning seen on OCT in people with MS over time reliably mirrors overall brain health and nerve loss, suggesting that OCT can show underlying disease progression.
  • In this study, loss of tissue in a specific nerve layer in the back of the eye, called the ganglion cell and inner plexiform layer, was accelerated in people who were obese at the start of the study (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher).
  • This study adds important evidence to previous findings that obesity worsens outcomes for people with MS. Understanding further the relation between obesity and nervous system health may also have implications for people with other health concerns.
  • Obesity is considered a modifiable risk factor – learn more about healthy eating and taking control of your weight. Get information on food planning during the coronavirus pandemic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Association of body mass index with longitudinal rates of retinal atrophy in multiple sclerosis” by Drs. Angeliki G Filippatou, Shiv Saidha and colleagues (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD) was published on April 16, 2020 in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

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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