Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may be especially important for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). A new study published by Neurology
suggests that patients with MS who eat healthier have less disability and experience fewer symptoms than patients who eat unhealthy.
Included in the study were 6989 patients with MS who participated in the North American Research Committee registry. Patients were grouped into 5 cohorts based on the health of their diet. The investigators classified a healthy diet as one that mainly included fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, while lessening the intake of sugar in desserts, sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats.
The authors also determined how healthy patients were by assessing factors such as weight, physical activity levels, eating habits, and smoking status.
Patients were also asked about relapses or worsening of symptoms over the previous 6 months, in addition to reporting disability level and symptom severity, including fatigue, mobility, pain, and depression, according to the authors.
The researchers discovered that patients with the healthiest diet were 20% less likely to have severe disability compared with the least healthy patients, according to the study. These findings were confirmed after adjusting for potentially confounding factors, including age and time since diagnosis.
Patients who consumed the healthiest diet were also 20% less likely to experience severe depression compared with patients who ate the least healthy diet.
The authors found that patients with the best diet ate 1.7 servings of whole grains per day and 3.3 servings per day of fruits, vegetables, and legumes compared with 0.3 servings per day and 1.7 servings per day for with the least healthy diet, respectively, according to the study.
Significantly, patients who led an overall healthy lifestyle
were 50% less likely to experience depression, 30% less likely to experience fatigue, and 40% less likely to experience pain compared with unhealthy patients, according to the study.
The investigators also examined whether following a specific diet
or weight loss plan can improve the symptoms MS, such as the Paleo diet and the Wahls’ diet. The authors found that the use of these diets may result in a modestly reduced risk of disability progression.
While this study suggests that a healthy diet and lifestyle can improve MS disease progression, the authors caution that it cannot be known whether a healthy diet can predict symptoms into the future.
“People with MS often ask if there is anything they can do to delay or avoid disability, and many people want to know if their diet can play a role, but there have been few studies investigating this,” said study author Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, ScD. “While this study does not determine whether a healthy lifestyle reduces MS symptoms or whether having severe symptoms makes it harder for people to engage in a healthy lifestyle, it provides evidence for the link between the two.”