Diet Matters… and It Matters Now

Greetings from ECTRIMS, the 34th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS. This is a lion of a meeting–the world’s largest gathering of researchers dedicated to MS. One thing I have noticed is how close MS researchers are getting to the real concerns of people affected by this disease.

People with MS have been asking for years about diet–is there a diet that works for MS? Does what you eat matter? The work I’ve seen thus far is beginning to answer these questions (links to the scientific summaries, or abstracts, are provided below).

We’ve all heard about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables. Dr. Ilana Katz-Sand and colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City randomly assigned 36 women to this diet or educational seminars. Those on the diet received training with a nutritionist and attended monthly meetings to promote adherence. Only one person dropped out of this six-month study, and participants reported that they were able to stick with the diet. Preliminary results show some improvements in fatigue and quality of life. We need larger studies to see whether MS symptoms can be managed using the Mediterranean diet, but this small study shows how feasible these studies can be (Abstract P643). This diet also was linked to fewer relapses in a preliminary study by Dr. Danyel Chermon and a team at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who administered questionnaires and food diaries to 47 people with MS (Abstract P1001).

“Ketogenic” diets are high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets that have been shown to actually battle inflammation, similar to what happens during the course of MS. Dr. J. Nicholas Brenton and colleagues from Virginia and Canada enrolled 20 participants with relapsing-remitting MS; a trained dietitian taught them how to adhere to a modified ketogenic diet. Their adherence was monitored daily by testing ketone levels in urine. Fatigue, depression and body mass index (an indirect measure of body fat) all improved after three months of dieting. Inflammatory molecules that are secreted by fatty tissue were reduced. Studies like these are what we need to eventually develop evidence-based dietary lifestyles that may benefit people with MS (Abstract P958).

There are many ways to go about studying diets–although it doesn’t have the same statistical power as a controlled trial—evaluating questionnaire results can allow researchers to involve more people. Dr. Kathryn Fitzgerald and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore analyzed data from a group of 277 people who answered more than 100 diet questions, and were assessed for neurologic function. Their findings were striking to me—participants with the best scores in diet quality had significantly higher processing speeds (cognition) and faster walking speeds than those with the lowest diet quality scores (Abstract P364).

I’m truly heartened to see so many teams doing the hard work necessary to show how important diet can be for people with MS. But what’s especially great about this research is that while we may need to wait to confirm the effects of any particular diet, we don’t need to wait another minute to act on what we already know. What you eat matters. Healthy eating improves overall health–even if you have a chronic disease like MS–and early findings show it may help address MS symptoms and disease activity.

Check out all the news from ECTRIMS 2018 on our website. 
Tags Healthcare, Healthy Living, Research, Symptoms      6 Appreciate this

Kathleen Zackowski

Dr. Kathleen Zackowski has conducted research on rehabilitation approaches for MS and other disorders for more than 15 years. She just joined the Society’s research team as senior director of patient management, care and rehabilitation research after working as a clinician and researcher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is working to grow the Society’s research focused on clinical care and rehabilitation, and wellness strategies.