Eating fish once a week, or one to three times per month along with taking daily fish oil supplements, may help lower the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), a preliminary study shows.
These findings suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon, tuna and shrimp may be linked to a reduced risk of MS.
Results from the study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting April 21-27 in Los Angeles.
In this preliminary study, researchers assessed the frequency of fish consumption in 1,153 people (average age of 36) from various backgrounds. About half of the enrolled participants were diagnosed with MS or clinically isolated syndrome — a condition usually seen as the first episode of MS symptoms, lasting at least 24 hours.
“Consuming fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have a variety of health benefits, so we wanted to see if this simple lifestyle modification, regularly eating fish and taking fish oil supplements, could reduce the risk of MS,” Annette Langer-Gould, an MD and PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a press release.
People enrolled in the study were divided into two categories according to their fish consumption: high fish intake or low fish intake. Those in the high fish intake group ate either one portion of fish per week or one to three portions per month along with daily fish oil supplements. The low intake group ate less than one portion of fish per month, and they did not take fish oil supplements.
Researchers found a 45 percent reduced risk of developing MS or clinically isolated syndrome in the high fish intake group compared to the low fish intake one. The high fish intake group was composed of 180 MS patients and 251 healthy people.
The team also found that some people may regulate fatty acid levels more easily than others. By looking at 13 mutations in genes that regulate fatty acid levels, they found two mutations that were associated with a reduced risk of developing MS, even after accounting for a higher intake of fish.
These results suggest that some people may have a genetic advantage based on how their bodies regulate fatty acid levels.
The team emphasized the association between the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and the reduced risk of developing MS, but not a cause and effect relationship. In the future, researchers want to assess how omega-3 fatty acids affect metabolism, inflammation, and nerve function, to confirm this association.
A similar pilot study is testing whether the Mediterranean diet can reduce MS symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. Fish and other seafood are known to be an important part of the Mediterranean diet.
According to the researchers, fish such as sardines, salmon, albacore tuna and lake trout are generally seen as good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.