Though approved therapies for multiple sclerosis (MS) exist, the disabling disease remains currently incurable leading to greater interest for promoting healthier lifestyles that could ease or slow disease impacts such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease which increase progression of disability, brain injury, and atrophy.
In fact, the potential beneficial role of a low-fat diet to MS patients has been under debate for a while, but without scientific evidence to firmly support it.
A pilot study by Dr. Vijayshree Yadav and colleagues, at the Oregon Health & Science University, now suggests that a very-low saturated fat, plant-based diet followed for one year by people with the most common form of MS, relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), can be a starting point.
The results were published in the study “Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial,” in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.
The study was a randomized, controlled and blind analysis of RRMS patients for one year. The patients assessed showed abnormal brain MRI, had MS for less than 15 years, were between 18-70 years old, had clinical relapse or active disease in the previous two years, and had a diet with over 30% of total daily caloric intake from fat. Patients on a disease-modifying therapy (DMT) for MS were included if they were on a stable dose for at least six months prior to screening, and if they maintained stable treatment throughout the study.
Researchers analyzed several MS indicators and symptoms, including brain lesions on MRI brain scans, relapse rate, disabilities caused by the disease, body weight (body mass index – BMI) and cholesterol levels.
The study consisted of 61 patients — 32 were assigned to the very-low fat, plant-based diet; the other 29 were included in the wait-listed group (control). The low-fat diet group received residential diet training in Santa Rosa, California through the McDougall Program. They ate starchy plant foods (beans, breads, corn, pastas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice with the addition of fruits and non-starchy vegetables). Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and vegetable oils (such as corn and olive oil) were not allowed. The control group maintained their usual diet during the study. Both groups were also encouraged to perform at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity at least five days a week.
“Dietary intervention participants experienced reduction in weight, BMI, LDL [“bad” cholesterol] and total cholesterol and insulin levels,” the authors wrote. “These improvements would likely enhance their long-term general health if they remained on the diet.”
Improvement was also found in quality of life concerns including overall mood and levels of fatigue, the latter being a debilitating problem among RRMS patients.
The results showed no effect on MS disease activity (MRI and clinical), but the authors attribute this partly to several limitations, such as “the small sample size, short duration and the use of DMT among most participants.”
Researchers concluded: “If maintained, the improved lipid profile and BMI could yield long-term vascular health benefits. Longer studies with larger sample sizes are needed to better understand the long-term health benefits of this diet.”