Mediterranean diet has benefits for older MS patients, study finds

Those who followed diet weighed less, were more active

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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An illustration of a varied diet shows an array of fruits, vegetables, seeds and fish.

Older adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) whose eating habits resemble a Mediterranean diet tend to have less disability and better quality of life, a study found.

The findings suggest the Mediterranean diet is a “promising nutritional intervention to slow down disease progression of MS and to minimize disease-related symptoms severity,” the researchers wrote.

The study, “Association of Mediterranean diet adherence with disease progression, quality of life and physical activity, sociodemographic and anthropometric parameters, and serum biomarkers in community-dwelling older adults with multiple sclerosis: a cross-sectional study,” was published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research.

Diet has a profound effect on health. Although there isn’t a specific diet recommended for people with MS, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet is an important part of managing the disease for many people.

The Mediterranean diet is modeled on foods commonly eaten in certain regions around the Mediterranean sea, such as Greece and southern Italy. The diet includes olive oil as a main source of fat, with lots of vegetables, legumes, fish and poultry, and minimal intake of red meat and sweets.

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Evidence scant on MS patients, particularly older ones

It’s has been touted as a model for a good diet for people with MS, as it hits many of the goals recommended for a well-balanced diet, such as high amounts of vegetables and minimal processed sugars and fats.

But there isn’t much solid data on whether sticking to a Mediterranean diet is beneficial for MS patients. Data is especially scant for the effect of diet on older MS patients.

To learn more, a team of scientists in Greece conducted a survey of 227 adults older than 65 with MS but no other major health disorders. All were Caucasian (most reported Greek ancestry), about three-quarters were women, and about one-third were regular smokers.

The patients were surveyed about their dietary habits and assessed with a battery of standardized measures looking at disability status, life quality, demographics, and lifestyle habits. The researchers also interviewed patients to ensure the results were consistent.

With these data in hand, the scientists constructed statistical models looking for significant differences between patients whose dietary patterns matched a Mediterranean-style diet and those whose did not.

Results showed patients with a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet tended to have less disability and report better quality of life. This implies that “adopting MD [a Mediterranean diet] may improve the daily quality of life of MS patients,” the researchers said.

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Cause and effect unclear

Patients who followed a Mediterranean-style diet were more likely to live with other people and to be on the younger end of the age range studied. They also had higher levels of physical activity and weighed less than patients with other dietary habits, and were less likely to have markers of iron deficiency, malnutrition, or inflammation.

“This study has clearly showed that a higher MD compliance is independently associated with a lower prevalence of advanced disease progression and a lower incidence of related symptoms,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted that it’s impossible to draw any firm conclusions about cause and effect, as it’s unclear if patients following a Mediterranean-style diet tended to have less disability and better life quality because of the diet itself, or because of other factors such as differences in age.

Other factors, such as psychiatric disorders, may be at play, but weren’t assessed in the study, the researchers said. They stressed a need for additional prospective studies to better understand the effects of diet, and the Mediterranean diet in particular, in people with MS.

“Overall, an appropriate and balanced diet such as MD could be helpful in improving the condition and well-being of patients with MS, and effectively supporting as a complementary factor to enhance drug therapy efficiency,” the researchers wrote. “Future, well-designed MD intervention studies are highly recommended to evaluate more effectively the potential beneficial effects of MD in older adults with MS,” they wrote.