Does childhood diet impact future MS?

16 February, 2021
  • Researchers have explored the dietary habits of over 1,000 participants with and without MS, through their childhood, adolescent and young adult years.
  • Results from this recently published study, funded by MS Research Australia, show possible associations between the consumption of certain foods in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood and the development of MS as an adult.
  • Early results show that including fruit, yogurt and legumes in various age groups through childhood and teenage years could potentially reduce the possibility of developing MS in adulthood.

Diet and MS

There is a growing body of evidence to support the concept that the foods we eat may be a modifiable risk factor for both developing MS and for the progression of MS. Whilst still preliminary, emerging research includes the possible beneficial effects of fatty acids, such as those found in oily fish, and the potentially detrimental effects of a diet high in processed and inflammatory foods. However, recently published work supported by MS Research Australia grant recipient Dr Lucinda Black from Curtin University in WA, suggests that dietary intake during childhood could affect the development of MS as an adult.

What did the researchers discover?

The new study investigated whether dietary intake in childhood (6-10 years), adolescence (11-15 years) and young adulthood (16-20 years) had any impact on the development of MS as an adult (after 20 years). Dr Black and her team used data from the MS Sunshine study exploring 13 types of food; including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, dairy, red meat, and protein-based foods, to see if the frequency of consuming these foods growing up had any connection to the development of MS later in life.

The results of the research study revealed that consuming fruit and yogurt across all of the age groups studied (6-20 years) and consuming legumes (such as lentils, beans and peas) between the ages of 11-15 years, was associated with a reduced risk of MS developing as an adult. These foods feature as healthy foods in the Australian dietary guidelines and suggest a potential link between past diet and the future development of MS.

What does this mean?

Before recommendations can be made, additional research is needed to explore this concept further, including investigating ideal portion sizes and the recommended frequency of consuming these particular foods. Further research exploring dietary effects on MS is already ongoing through recently announced MS Research Australia grants including studies looking at polyunsaturated-fatty-acids and protein intake.

Results from new dietary research projects will be welcomed by the MS community, so that any modifiable risk factors to protect against both the development and progression of MS can be implemented as early as possible.

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