Mediterranean diet linked to better mental health in older MS patients

Elderly patients on the diet tend to have less severe symptoms: Study

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Elderly adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) who adhere more to a Mediterranean diet tend to have less severe disability and fewer mental health, sleep, and cognitive problems, according to a new study.

“This study has provided evidence that adopting [a Mediterranean diet] at higher levels was associated with lower prevalence of disability and symptom severity, depression, anxiety, perceived stress, inadequate sleep quality, cognitive impairment, and physical inactivity in older adults with MS,” researchers wrote.

While scientists cautioned it’s impossible to draw definitive conclusions about cause and effect from these data, they said the findings add to a growing body of evidence that the Mediterranean diet may offer benefits in MS.

The study, “Association of Higher Mediterranean Diet Adherence With Lower Prevalence of Disability and Symptom Severity, Depression, Anxiety, Stress, Sleep Quality, Cognitive Impairment, and Physical Inactivity in Older Adults With Multiple Sclerosis,” was published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology

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Mediterranean diet is among recommended diets for people with MS

Although no specific diet is recommended for people with MS, eating a healthy and nutritionally-balanced diet can be a vital part of managing the disease.

The Mediterranean diet is commonly observed among cultures around the Mediterranean sea, and includes plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, as well as fish, poultry, and olive oil, with relatively little red meat, animal fats, or processed sugars.

The diet provides nutrients thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and some small studies have suggested that this type of diet may offer benefits for people with MS.

Previous research on the Mediterranean diet in MS has mainly included young adults, however. In this study, scientists in Greece wanted to investigate whether the diet may be beneficial in older adults with the disease.

The scientists conducted a survey of 279 MS patients older than 65 years. Most of them were women, and more than 90% had relapsing-remitting MS.

The patients completed a battery of assessments asking about their disability status, symptom severity, and mental health. Patients also completed the Mediterranean Diet Score, which is a standardized measure that calculates how similar a person’s diet is to a Mediterranean diet.

With these data in hand, the researchers conducted statistical analyses looking for associations between the diet score and the other measurements.

Results showed patients who reported a more Mediterranean-like diet tended to report significantly fewer mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress.

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Mediterranean diet linked to lower disability levels

They were less likely to report sleep problems or cognitive impairment, more likely to be physically active, and tended to have lower disability levels and less severe MS symptoms overall.

“Our results are in accordance with certain previous studies that a higher compliance to [the Mediterranean diet] may be associated with an improvement in disease disability and symptom severity,” and show “positive effects in several aspects of the mental health of older adults with MS,” the researchers concluded.

The team noted the study identified only correlations, so it’s impossible to say from the data whether dietary differences are the cause of the differences identified, or if other factors might also be at play.

“Although we have applied adjustment for age, gender, educational and financial status, living status, smoking habits, nationality, and BMI [body mass index] status, there is still the possibility that residual confounding may affect our findings,” the scientists wrote. As such, they highlighted a need for future studies to assess the impact of dietary habits in MS.

“Further well-designed, population-based prospective studies should be performed to obtain conclusive results for the potential beneficial effects of [the Mediterranean diet] in this age group of adults with MS,” the team concluded.