MS Australia supporting work into how diet might affect pediatric MS
Scientists at Perth university want to create dietary guidance for kids at risk
MS Australia is funding a study by researchers at Curtin University into how diet might affect multiple sclerosis (MS) onset in children.
Led by Eleanor Dunlop, PhD, a dietitian and postdoctoral researcher at the Perth university’s School of Population Health, the study will investigate the influence different types of foods — from ultra-processed offerings to dairy products and fish — might have in the development of pediatric MS.
“The findings of our study will provide evidence to support dietary guidance for children at high risk of developing MS,” Dunlop said in a university press release.
Research lacking into pediatric MS and risk factors like dietary choices
MS is a marked by the immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, the fatty coating around nerve fibers that’s critical for the efficient transmission of nerve signals. Damage to myelin disrupts such signaling and cell-to-cell communication, leading to hallmark symptoms of the disease.
While the exact causes of MS are unknown, several risk factors are known to contribute to the disease. These include genetics and past infections, as well as environmental and lifestyle factors from smoking to diet.
“There has been a considerable increase in the number of children being diagnosed with MS in recent years,” Dunlop said. While MS “remains rare in children, those with a family history of MS are known to be at greater risk of developing the disease.”
Patients’ food choices “have long been of interest in multiple sclerosis research,” she added, but such efforts has largely looked only into those of adults. “Little is known about the influence of diet on the likelihood of a child developing MS,” Dunlop said.
To determine diet’s potential role and possibly protective food choices for children at risk, researchers will examine data from studies that gathered dietary information on children with MS and their healthy peers, and other work conducted or assisted by Helen Tremlett, PhD.
Tremlett holds a research chair in neuroepidemiology and multiple sclerosis at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
“Using this information, we will investigate whether diets, foods or nutrients may help to reduce the risk of children developing MS,” Dunlop said.
The project is supported by a two-year postdoctoral fellowship given Dunlop and the MS nutrition research team at the Curtin school by MS Australia.
“I look forward to seeing how it [the study] will advance our knowledge of the role that diet plays in the onset of MS in children,” said Chris Moran, deputy vice chancellor research professor at Curtin University.