A small scale study undertaken by researchers at the Department of Neurology, Oregon Health & Science University (OSHU) showed the benefits of maintaining a low-fat diet in improving fatigue related to multiple sclerosis (MS). The study was led by Dr. Vijayshree Yadav, M.D., an associate professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and clinical medical director of the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center.
The study observed 53 people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form of the disease, out of which 27 were included in a control group with no dietary restrictions and 22 people were tested while adhering to a low-fat diet. This low-fat diet for MS patients, called the McDougall Diet after its creator John McDougall, M.D., included beneficial starches; a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables; and no meat, fish or dairy products. The study lasted for a period of 12 months, with the aim of monitoring improvements in indicators and symptoms of MS including brain lesions on MRI scans, severity and time span of relapse, disabilities caused by the same, body weight and cholesterol levels.
This study was in line with previous research focusing on the same issue — the most widely read one led by Professor Roy Laver Swank of the Swank Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Portland, Oregon. The study, commonly known as “Professor Swank’s Low Saturated Fat Study,” focused on a group of 150 patients with varied levels of neurological disabilities who were monitored over a period of 34 years. Results showed considerable improvements in the neurological health score assigned by him, which indicated the overall benefits of following a diet that was low in saturated fats. Reducing saturated fat consumption by as little as two-thirds of original intake had a beneficial effect on the MS patient’s health and slowing the progression of the disease.
The results of the current study showed no major difference in the number of brain lesions from MRI scans or the relapse rate for patients with RRMS, but it significantly lowered the cholesterol values, helped in reducing body weight, reduced fatigue, and increased the overall quality of life as assessed by a questionnaire at the end of the trial.
Commenting on the long term benefits and future prospects of the results, Dr. Yadav said, “Fatigue can be a debilitating problem for many people living with relapsing-remitting MS. So this study’s results — showing some notable improvement in fatigue for people who follow this diet — are a hopeful hint of something that could help many people with MS.” To this, Dennis Bourdette, M.D., F.A.A.N., chair of OHSU’s Department of Neurology, director of OHSU’s MS Center and a study co-author, added, “This study showed the low-fat diet might offer some promising help with the fatigue that often comes with MS. But further study is needed, hopefully with a larger trial where we can more closely look at how the diet might help fatigue and possibly affect other symptoms of MS.”