New U.S. research suggests that people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) may be able to reduce their symptoms by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, the new study looked at 6,989 people with all types of MS.
Participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their diet, before being divided into five groups based on how healthy their diet was.
A healthy diet was defined as one which focused on eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and less red meat, less processed meat, and less sugar from desserts and sweetened beverages.
In the study those who ate the healthiest diet consumed an average of 1.7 servings of whole grains per day, compared to 0.3 servings per day for those with the least healthy diet, and ate 3.3 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes per day, compared to 1.7 servings for the unhealthiest group.
The researchers also assessed whether participants had an overall healthy lifestyle, defined as having a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, eating a better than average diet, and not smoking, and asked participants to report on any MS symptoms and relapses experienced in the last six months in areas such as fatigue, mobility, pain and depression.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that participants in the group with the healthiest diet were 20 per cent less likely to have more severe physical disability than people in the group with the least healthy diet, and around 20 per cent less likely to have more severe depression.
The results also held true even after researchers took into account other factors that could affect disability, such as age and how long they had MS.
In addition, when looking at a healthy lifestyle overall, those who were healthiest were nearly 50 per cent less likely to have depression, 30 per cent less likely to have severe fatigue and more than 40 per cent less likely to have pain than people who did not have a healthy lifestyle.
The study also looked at whether people followed a specific diet, including the popular Paleo diet, or diets which are believed to be beneficial for people with MS, such as the Wahls diet. Here they found that overall, past or current use of these diets was associated with modestly reduced risk of increased disability, although so far the evidence to suggest that the Wahls diet can help sufferers of MS remains unclear.
“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,” said study author Kathryn C. Fitzgerald.
“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.”
Fitzgerald also pointed that the results may not be applicable to everyone, though previous research has also suggested that diet could play a role in the condition. A recent U.S. study which looked specifically at children with MS also found that a high-fat diet may increase the risk of experiencing a relapse, whereas a diet rich in vegetables could lower it.