Pilot Study Is Testing Whether Mediterranean Diet Can Help MS Patients

Pilot Study Is Testing Whether Mediterranean Diet Can Help MS Patients

New York researchers are doing a pilot study of whether a Mediterranean diet can reduce multiple sclerosis symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. 

Dr. Ilana B. Katz Sand, an assistant professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is leading the research. She is also the associate medical director of the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis.

Recent studies have suggested that certain types of gut bacteria contribute to the worsening of MS.

Sand participated in one suggesting that people with MS have higher levels of gut bacteria that trigger inflammatory responses and fewer anti-inflammatory bacteria.

The balance between bacterial species in our gut may influence the immune system in surrounding tissue. It may also produce molecules that travel to more distant parts of the body and participate in what may look like gut-unrelated events.

Understandably, diet can change the composition of gut bacteria.

Some people with MS try to eat well to maintain their health. A poor diet can interfere with energy levels, bladder and bowel health, and possibly shift the immune system to a more or less inflammatory state.

Different nutritionists promote different diets as the best for MS, even though there is no evidence to support one over another.

Designing trials to test diets is a challenge. Some researchers are only now starting to explore in a  comprehensive way how dietary changes can benefit MS patients.

Sand’s team is seeking to understand the role that diet and gut bacteria play in the inflammation and nerve cell degeneration seen in autoimmune disorders like MS.

Their pilot trial (NCT02986893) is assessing whether a Mediterranean diet can improve MS patients’ quality of life. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is funding the work, which began in January and is expected to be completed in April.

“We want to better understand the inflammatory process, the neurodegenerative process, and the effect that diet has on MS symptoms,” Sand said in a Mount Sinai news release. “Our findings could be very important in understanding the onset of MS and how to treat it.”

A Mediterranean diet includes fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and avocados. It eliminates meat, dairy products, and processed foods.

The team enrolled 36 MS patients in the study. They randomly assigned 18 to a Mediterranean diet for six months, while the others stayed with their usual diet.

Following a restricted diet can be difficult. To keep those on the diet motivated enough to stick with it, Sand, a nutritionist, and a research coordinator meet with the group monthly. They provide the patients with menu suggestions, recipes, and tips. And the patients discuss their experiences with the diet. The two sides also keep in touch by email.

The control group that has not changed their diet attend occasional study sessions and seminars on topics related to wellness in MS. At the end of the pilot study, if they want to try the diet, the nutritionist is ready to consult with them.

The diet is expected to generate changes in patients’ biological parameters, such as levels of lipids and carotenoids in blood, and salt in urine. Researchers are measuring these markers during the study.

To assess the diet’s effect on overall health, researchers are also looking for changes in body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol and glucose levels.

To help answer the question of whether the diet improves patients’ wellbeing, the team is using quality-of-life questionnaires and neuropsychological tests to assess wellness, fatigue, depression, and cognition.

Researchers are also analyzing bacteria in fecal specimens and doing immunological profiling with blood samples. This could help them learn more about the mechanisms involved in dietary effects.

In the future, the team plans to increase the number of study participants. They said they believe it may be possible some day to offer MS patients a gut bacteria-based therapy.



    • Sylvia says:

      While that may be true, I don’t know one neurologist in my area who supports this diet. I just get a pat on the head and a ‘that’s nice dear’ in spite of the evidence. I guess there is no profit in prescribing diet and healthy lifestyle.

  1. Sylvia says:

    I have had MS for 45 years and have followed a Mediterranean diet for the last year. My mobility has improved dramatically and my cognitive function and fatigue levels have change dramatically and positively. I started this diet thanks to an Australian program called Overcoming MS.

  2. Sandra says:

    Very interesting! I am interested about Nutrition, I would like to know how I can get more information about the Mediterranean Diet, menus etc.
    I would like to participate for the next study.

  3. Jeff Bowden says:

    I have had MS for 42 years and am now in a wheel chair. About five years ago I started on the Med diet and my overall well being has made a significant improvement. The Med Diet as they list it is incorrect. The Med diet DOES include red meat, dairy, and about anything except processed foods and sweets, but only in very small quantities, approximately 3 to 4 ounces per day.

    We are all different in our gut biomes, depending on where we have lived, waters we drink, etc. But I feel this has made a significant improvement, and overall I have learned to really enjoy this diet, eating and cooking, adding veggies and grains in everything.

    I’ve tried the Whals, and all the others but found them bland and I was unable to stay on them. Even those I knew did stay honestly on them showed no improvement.

    My blood pressure is consistently 120/80, my biomass index is very low, all the other stats are excellent. I don’t do burgers and fries, I am very picky when I eat out, and I fell great.

    My only regret is that I didn’t do this earlier!

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