Drinking about 290 calories of sugar-sweetened beverages — the equivalent of about two cans of non-diet soda — per day may be associated with a higher level of disability in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), compared to those who seldom consume such beverages, according to a preliminary study.
The research, “Dietary Intake and the Effect on Disease Progression in People with Multiple Sclerosis,” will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting, to be held in Philadelphia, May 4–10.
MS patients are known to be at greater risk for metabolic disorders. Although diet may influence immune function, oxidative stress, and the gut microbiota ( the microbial population), which are all relevant in MS, evidence of the effects of diet on disease progression is scarce.
A team at St. Josef Hospital and Neurologische Universitätsklinik, in Germany, and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in the U.S., analyzed 135 MS patients: 73% women, mean age of 44.6 years, and mean body mass index of 24.5 (within the normal weight range).
Each participant completed a 102-item diet questionnaire to calculate the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) score, an assessment of diet quality that favorably weighs the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole-grains and dairy, while the consumption of salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats is weighed unfavorably.
“We chose to study the DASH diet because adherence to the DASH diet is associated with lower risk of other chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD, a researcher involved in the study, said in a press release.
The DASH score ranged from 8 (worst diet quality) to 40 (best). Patients were divided into five groups based on how much soda and sugar-sweetened beverages they drank. Those in the top group had a daily average of 290 calories of these beverages, as opposed to seven daily calories — the equivalent of one-and-a-half cans of non-diet soda per month — in the bottom group.
Investigators also looked at the correlation of overall DASH scores and its component foods/nutrients with the patients’ disability levels, as assessed with the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). Thirty participants had severe disability, as reflected by an EDSS score of 6 or higher.
While the findings did not reveal a link between the overall DASH score and level of disability, participants who drank the largest amount of soda, flavored juices, and sweetened teas and coffees had a five-times greater risk of having severe disability, than those who seldom drank these beverages.
Twelve of the 34 patients in the top intake group had severe disability, in contrast to only four of the 34 participants in the bottom group. The average EDSS score was 4.1 points in the top group, and 3.4 points in the bottom group.
“While overall diet quality was not associated with disability status in this preliminary study, we observed potential association between [sweetened beverages] and higher disability status in MS patients,” the team wrote.
“While these results need to be confirmed by larger studies that follow people over a long period of time … we do know that sodas have no nutritional value and people with MS may want to consider reducing or eliminating them from their diet,” Meier-Gerdingh concluded.
Additional studies are needed to confirm the results, and determine whether sugar-sweetened beverages affect the course of MS.