Researchers from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research have found adverse levels of ‘bad’ fats in the blood are closely linked to the level of disability in people with MS and the rate of disability progression.
These significant findings published today in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal and Journal of the Neurological Sciences suggest dietary and lifestyle modifications that improve fat profiles in the blood may also slow the rate of disability progression.
Senior researcher at the Menzies, Dr van der Mei says, ‘This is a very significant finding for the 23,000 Australians living with MS – as it shows reducing bad fats can significantly reduce not only the future level of disability but also the rate at which it progresses.’
‘Our new findings confirm that dietary measures to control fats in the blood is also another important measure Australians living with MS should act upon.’
Fats are an essential component of the brain and contribute to its repair and maintenance. However, some evidence suggests that levels of ‘bad’ fats may be linked to onset and progression of the condition. In this study, with PhD student Prudence Tettey as lead author, the team examined the fat profiles from blood samples of 141 people with relapsing remitting MS. The samples were collected at six monthly intervals over two and a half years as part of the National Health and Medical Research Council funded Tasmanian MS Longitudinal Study. This study is a highly valuable long-term data resource with detailed information on relapses, disability, MRI scans, lifestyle, immune function, virology and genetics.
The results identified that the amounts of a number of different fats in the blood, including the High and Low Density Lipoproteins (HDL and LDL) and triglycerides, were closely associated with disability level at baseline, and with disability progression over time. However, neither the level of fat in the blood nor a person’s body mass index (BMI) were associated with risk of relapse.
This suggests that the fats in the blood may instead influence ongoing degeneration of brain tissue that drives the progressive phase of the disease. These results may have exciting implications for modifiable lifestyle factors that can influence disease severity. However, further clinical studies are recommended to confirm that interventions, such as reducing BMI and increasing physical activity, are able to produce benefits for slowing disability progression.
This research has been funded by a MS Research Australia project grant in 2012 to investigate whether fats play a role in the risk of relapses in MS and disability progression.