A diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains may decrease symptoms and lessen disease progression in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a study suggests.
The report, “Diet quality is associated with disability and symptom severity in multiple sclerosis,” appeared in the journal Neurology.
“People with MS often ask if there is anything they can do to delay or avoid disability, and many people want to know if their diet can play a role, but there have been few studies investigating this,” Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a press release.
“While this study does not determine whether a healthy lifestyle reduces MS symptoms or whether having severe symptoms makes it harder for people to engage in a healthy lifestyle, it provides evidence for the link between the two,” added Fitzgerald, who belongs to the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers enrolled 6,989 patients with all types of MS — recruited from the North American Research Committee registry — and analyzed their responses to a questionnaire on diet habits.
The team, using Patient-Determined Disease Steps, assessed how diet and other lifestyle habits, such as routine physical activity and avoidance of smoking, were linked to disease severity. Patients disclosed their disease history in the previous six months.
The analysis showed that MS patients with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains — and low in sugars and red meat — were 20 percent less likely to be depressed or see their disease worsen than patients with more unhealthy diets. That link remained even after accounting for patients’ age and time since the first sign of disease.
MS patients who ate an average 1.7 servings of whole grains and 3.3 servings of vegetables, legumes and fruits per day had the highest scores. Those who also had healthier lifestyles like exercising and not smoking had a 50 percent lower risk of depression, a 40 percent drop in pain and a 30 percent lower incidence of fatigue.
Specific diets, like the Paleo diet or weight-loss plans, led to a modest decrease in patients’ disability risks.
Overall, the team concluded, “our large cross-sectional survey suggests a healthy diet and a composite healthy lifestyle are associated with lesser disability and symptom burden in MS.”