People who eat a healthy diet that includes foods such as vegetables, fish, eggs, poultry, and legumes may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), a study suggests.
Although diet may be a modifiable risk factor for MS, current evidence is mainly based on single foods and nutrients, with inconclusive results.
For example, one study found that 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 MS. Another study showed that higher intake of antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and E, does not reduce the risk of MS in women, as previously thought.
Instead, analyzing dietary patterns has advantages over the single food or single nutrient approach “by capturing information about a person’s total diet, including the interactions that may occur between food components,” the authors wrote.
Researchers at Curtin University in Australia investigated the associations between dietary patterns and the risk of a first diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination, a common precursor to MS.
“There are a number of known environmental risk factors for MS, including low vitamin D status and low sun exposure, smoking, and a history of glandular fever, and we were intrigued to see whether diet and food intake also played a significant role in this,” study lead author Lucinda Black, PhD, said in a press release.
The team collected data from the 2003-2006 Ausimmune study, a multicenter, case-control study conducted across Australia, and assessed if “a healthy diet or a western-style diet had an impact on the chances of having a demyelinating event, which involves damage to the myelin sheath that protects the nerves,” Black said.
A total of 698 participants (252 cases and 446 controls, matched in age, sex, and study region) who responded to a food frequency questionnaire concerning dietary patterns were included in the study.
Results were adjusted for body mass index, education, race, smoking habits, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, history of infectious mononucleosis, and dietary misreporting.
Two major dietary patterns were identified: healthy (high in poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, and legumes) and Western (high in meat, full-fat dairy; low in wholegrains, nuts, fresh fruit, and low-fat dairy).
A healthy diet was associated with a 25% reduced risk of a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination. However, no statistically significant association between the Western dietary pattern and risk of a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination was observed.
“Our results suggest that following a healthy diet characterised by poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables and legumes may lower the risk of [central nervous system demyelination],” the researchers wrote in the study.
While there is no cure for MS, this research can potentially be used to help reduce the risk of MS in those who are at high risk.
“We found that there is a strong need to improve nutrition education currently available for people at high risk of MS onset, as this may be beneficial in helping them follow a healthy diet and potentially reducing their risk of MS,” Black said.