Despite the fact that being obese or overweight may worsen multiple sclerosis (MS) prognosis, people with the neurodegenerative disease are not more likely to adopt weight loss diets, a small study suggests.
Several studies suggest that MS patients who are also obese have an increased risk of worse inflammation, higher relapse risk, and increased disability progression. Despite this evidence, little research has focused on the dietary habits of people with MS.
Now, a team led by researchers at Curtin University, in Perth, Australia, “hypothesized that the onset of MS symptoms would increase motivation among overweight or obese individuals to change their diet.”
The team analyzed body-mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat, as well as the dietary habits of participants in the MS Sunshine Study — a multi-ethnic, matched, case-control study of MS in southern California.
In total, researchers analyzed 989 cases — involving 470 people with MS (mean age 37.5 years) and 519 healthy people (controls) — with complete data on diets and potential predictors of dieting. Participants were white, black, or hispanic, and the majority were women.
Most of the participants were overweight or obese, with a similar prevalence of both conditions in the two groups: obesity was detected in 171 MS patients (36%) and 197 controls (38%), while overweight was seen in 146 MS patients (31%) and 171 controls (33%).
The educational background was similar between both groups, with 58% of individuals with MS and 53% of the controls not having earned a college degree.
The results showed that 46 people with the disease (10% of patients) adopted a specific diet for better nutrition or weight loss purposes after MS symptom onset. New diets were adopted by 56 controls (11%) within the same period.
These data suggested “there was no independent association between MS status and adopting a specific diet,” the researchers said.
Factors significantly linked with increased odds of adopting a weight loss diet were being overweight or obese, being of younger age, and being female. Hispanics and blacks were less likely to adopt a specific diet when compared with whites.
Weight Watchers was the most frequently adopted diet among participants, chosen by 16 people with MS and 18 controls.
“Despite the evidence that obesity can worsen MS prognosis, and the high prevalence of overweight/obesity, case participants were no more likely to adopt a specific diet than control participants,” the researchers said.
“Improved nutrition education may help people with MS make healthy dietary changes for nutrition or weight loss purposes,” the team concluded.