Fat Intake Increases Risk of Children with MS Having a Relapse, Study Suggests

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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Fat intake and MS

Diet can play an important role in whether children with relapsing multiple sclerosis have a relapse, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco argue.

Their study demonstrated that a diet with a lot of fat increases the risk of a youngster having a relapse by 56 percent, with saturated fat tripling the risk. Eating a lot of vegetables, on the other hand, cuts the risk in half, the team said.

The study, “Contribution of dietary intake to relapse rate in early paediatric multiple sclerosis,” was published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Since children with MS tend to have relapses more often than adults, the researchers figured they would be a suitable group to study diet’s impact on relapse. They recruited 219 children with relapsing-remitting MS or clinically isolated syndrome from 11 centers across the U.S. Clinically isolated syndrome is a condition that can evolve in MS.

The research team use a questionnaire known as the Block Kids Food Screener to analyze what the youngsters ate.

They tracked the children an average of almost two years, which was plenty of time for relapses to occur. And, in fact, they did occur in 42.5 percent of the group.

It turned out that fat had a particularly devastating effect on the youngsters’ relapse rate. For every 10 percent increase in energy intake that came from fat, there was a 56 percent increase in the children’s risk of having a relapse.

Saturated fats were the biggest driver of risk. When researchers look only at these fats, they discovered that the risk more than tripled. Examples of saturated fats include processed meats such as sausages, ham, and burgers, butter, hard cheeses, and whole milk.

Vegetables had the opposite effect on risk, the researchers observed. Using a cup equivalent as a standardized measure, they learned that for every additional cup of vegetables the children ate, the risk of a relapse dropped in half.

To exclude the possibility that other factors influenced the results, the team included information about age, sex, ethnicity, duration of disease, body mass index, treatment, and D-vitamin levels in their analyses. This did not influence the results.

The team also looked at whether other food components, such as sugar, iron, fruit and fiber, would affect the risk of relapse. They did not find any links.

Although the risk associations were strong, the researchers cautioned that the study’s observational design meant that it was not able to prove that fat causes relapses. But there are several ways that fat could play a role in disease processes, they argued.

For instance, high fat intake triggers the release of inflammation-promoting molecules. It also affectsf gut bacteria that are linked to immune processes. Vegetables lower the risk of inflammation and immune problems, the team said.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Kathryn Fitzgerald of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the study had important limitations.

Researchers gathered information on the children’s diet only in the week before they enrolled in the study. This might not adequately capture more long-term dietary patterns, she said. And fat is not simply fat, she pointed out, arguing that fish oil is believed to help MS patients.

Although the California research offers insight, she called for long-term studies to define diet’s role in MS.

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