Lifestyle May Impact MS Disability, Study Suggests

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Previous studies have pointed toward certain lifestyle factors such as nutrition, sedentary behavior, and stress as possible key determinants in multiple sclerosis (MS) progression but few studies have been dedicated to learning more about the impact of lifestyle risk factors on patient disability and disease progression.

A recent study supports the idea that a healthier lifestyle is strongly associated with less MS patient disability. The study, “Associations of Lifestyle, Medication, and Socio-Demographic Factors with Disability in People with Multiple Sclerosis: An International Cross-Sectional Study,” by George Jelinek, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Melbourne, Australia, was published in the journal PLoS One.

The study followed 2,469 participants with a definite or possible MS diagnosis and a sub-sample of 1,493 participants with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Participants were recruited from around the world by internet platforms such as MS online forums and websites and Facebook. They responded to a cross-sectional survey with several questionnaires regarding lifestyle, disability status, and relapses. The large sample allowed the authors to analyze a wide variety of lifestyle factors and to uncover important associations that would have been difficult to detect in a more homogeneous sample population.

“Stable and relatively stable factors with significant associations with disability were gender, age, years since diagnosis, latitude and number of comorbidities,” the authors wrote in the report. “Of the modifiable lifestyle factors, better diet, non–smoking, more exercise, omega 3 supplementation and disease-modifying drug use were associated with lower disability”.

The authors observed that in the RRMS group only diet and plant-based omega 3 supplements had an impact on relapses that occurred in the previous year. The use of a disease-modifying drug had a positive effect in this group by reducing the number of relapses.

The findings supported the need for a comprehensive secondary prevention program for people with MS. The team proposed that “relevant lifestyle risk factor modification, in combination with disease-modifying drug therapy may be the optimal management for people with MS”.

But the study noted a few limitations, including the fact that all data were self-reported and could have been influenced by several biases that include memory. Also, temporality could have been a limiting factor given that data reflects the current lifestyle of the participants and disability may take many years to develop.

The authors plan to continue evaluating the same participants every 2 1/2 years.

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