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Study Links Healthier Diets/Lifestyles with Less Disability in People with MS

December 6, 2017

SUMMARY
  • Healthier diets and lifestyles were associated with lower levels of disability in an analysis of a survey involving more than 6,900 people with MS enrolled in the NARCOMS  registry.
  • Further study is necessary to determine whether a healthy lifestyle actually reduces MS symptoms or whether a person’s symptoms interfere with the ability to engage in a healthy diet/lifestyle. To further explore wellness approaches in MS, the National MS Society is funding several studies of diet and other approaches.
  • The study, funded by the Consortium of MS Centers’ NARCOMS postdoctoral fellowship award, was published early online on December 6, 2017 in Neurology.
 
DETAILS
Background: Wellness – and the strategies needed to achieve it – is a high priority for people living with MS and for National MS Society services, programs and research. More research is needed in the areas of dietary approaches, exercise and lifestyle factors to provide information people with MS can use to live their best lives.
 
This Study: Drs. Kathryn Fitzgerald (Johns Hopkins University), Ruth Ann Marrie (University of Manitoba) and team administered a questionnaire on diet and lifestyle to participants in the North American Research Committee on MS (NARCOMS) registry. The questionnaire captured intake of fruits, vegetables and legumes, dairy/calcium, added sugars, whole grains/fiber, and red/processed meat. The research team developed a “diet quality score” based on the person’s overall diet quality. Participants reported whether they had experienced a relapse or gradual worsening of symptoms in the previous 6 months. Researchers also looked at whether a composite “healthy lifestyle” measure – meaning a healthy diet, healthy weight, routine physical activity, and no smoking – was associated with the severity of symptoms.
 
Results: A total of 6,989 NARCOMS participant responses were included in the analysis. People with the highest diet quality score – indicating a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and lower in added sugars and red meat – were 20% less likely to have severe disability than those with the lowest quality diet scores. Those with the healthiest diet were also 20% less likely to have severe depression. People with a healthier lifestyle were 50% less likely to have depression, 30% less likely to have severe fatigue and 40% less likely to have pain than people who did not have a healthier lifestyle.
 
The study, funded by the Consortium of MS Centers’ NARCOMS postdoctoral fellowship award, was published early online on December 6, 2017 in Neurology.
 
Next Steps or Comment: This study yields new information on the importance of diet in MS. Further study is necessary to determine whether a healthy lifestyle actually reduces MS symptoms or whether a person’s symptoms interfere with the ability to engage in a healthy diet/lifestyle. To further explore wellness approaches in MS, the National MS Society is funding several studies of diet and other approaches.
 
In an accompanying editorial, James F. Sumowski, PhD (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY) and others note that even though more study is necessary, “Until then, encouraging a healthy lifestyle (healthy eating, a normal weight, routine physical activity or exercise, and avoiding smoking) should be a fundamental message we give to all newly diagnosed patients with MS.”
 
Read More:
Read more about living well with MS 
Find out how to participate in research studies like these

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. 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. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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