The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional and healthy eating choices of people in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

People with multiple sclerosis may benefit from this diet. A large, population-based study, published in 2012, reported that older adults who followed this diet — rich in fruits and vegetables, fish and grains —  showed less damage to the brain’s small vessels, damage that occurs as a normal part of aging and that also can be caused by diseases such as MS.

Following a special diet may help some MS patients, although evidence supports no one particular diet but finds potential benefits in several. People with MS would do well to consult with their personal physicians before starting a diet that best meets their individual needs and preferences.

Mediterranean diet guidelines

The Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, lentils, peas and peanuts), olive oil and fish, a low consumption of butter and other animal fats (saturated fats), red meat, poultry and dairy products, and drinking red wine in moderation with meals.

Research on the Mediterranean diet

Researchers in the population study, called The Northern Manhattan Study, examined group of 966 people to determine if a Mediterranean-style diet might be associated with white matter hyperintensity volume (WMHV), as measured by brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

White matter hyperintensities, areas of brain lesions, are markers of chronic small vessel brain damage. Although people normally acquire such damage in the aging process, these lesions also associated with vascular risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Study participants, all older than 55, were followed for a mean 7.2 years. Results suggested, the researchers said, that those who most closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had “a lower burden of WMHV” and this association “was independent of sociodemographic and vascular risk factors, including physical activity, smoking, blood lipid levels, hypertension, diabetes, history of cardiac disease, and BMI (body-mass index, a measure of weight).”

Given that MS is closely related to cardiovascular disease and the probability that MS also involves diseases of the brain’s small vessels, the study’s findings may be important for people with MS — and for anyone who wishes to protect brain tissue through healthy eating habits.

 

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