Children and Teens with Multiple Sclerosis Consume Less Iron, Study Reports

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Nutritional status and MS

Children with multiple sclerosis consume less iron, which may affect their immune and nervous systems, according to a study.

The research, “Dietary factors and pediatric multiple sclerosis: A case-control study,” was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

Most MS cases occur between the ages of 20 and 40, but sometimes children under 18 develop it.

Pediatric-onset MS, as it’s called, is believed to account for 3 to 5 percent of cases that adults have now. Despite their low frequency, they are important because “the study of factors early in life which could affect their disease may provide important insight into the disease more generally,” the researchers from the Network of Pediatric MS Centers wrote.

One of the factors that could be important in the onset of MS is diet. But little has been known about how diet influences the risk and progression of the disease, particularly in pediatric MS.

In a study funded by the National MS Society, researchers decided to investigate the association between diet and MS in children, according to a press release.

The team recruited 312 MS patients 18 and younger from 16 children’s hospitals in the United States, and 456 controls without MS. The participants, or their parents, answered a questionnaire dealing with the  participants’ medical history, their physical development, and whether they were exposed to potentially harmful environmental factors. The questionnaire also covered demographic information and race.

Researchers used the Block Kids Food Screener questionnaire to obtain information about the participants’ diets, including their intake of fiber, fat, carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and iron.

The analysis showed no meaningful link between the consumption of fiber, fat, carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and children’s development of MS. Children with the disease did have lower iron intake than the controls, however.

Although in this exploratory study researchers didn’t look at whether there was a cause-and-effect relationship between iron and MS, the results suggested that children with the disease may be less likely to consume iron, a fact that warrants further investigation.

Iron is a vital mineral for our body to function properly, and low iron intake may affect the immune and nervous systems.

Future studies on the risk of children developing MS should “investigate the role of specific vitamins and minerals,” the team said. They should also “investigate the influence of dietary factors on disease outcomes in already established” cases of MS.

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