The Australian MS Longitudinal Study AMSLS is a survey-based research study that has been running for nearly two decades, with over 3,000 people completing research surveys each year. The study provides real life data about MS, which is used internationally to affect change for all people affected by MS. Here we highlight two studies that have used data from the AMSLS to investigate health outcomes for people with MS, such as diet and additional health conditions.
Diet, nutrition and the gut microbiome are issues of great interest to people living with MS. Using data from the AMSLS, this recently published report investigated whether dietary intake and choices are linked to health outcomes in people with MS. 1,490 participants completed surveys to report on their dietary habits and specific health outcomes such as quality of life, levels of fatigue and various scales reflecting common MS symptoms. The researchers reported that almost all participants (94%) tried to eat a healthy diet in general, and whilst most participants followed a specific diet, it was often not followed strictly all the time.
The study concluded that healthier diet scores and higher fibre, fruit and vegetable intake were linked with lower rates of depressive symptoms, better mental and physical quality of life and lower pain scores. These food components have previously been associated with a positive effect on the gut microbiome.
Interestingly, this study found little evidence to support avoiding red meat and dairy to achieve better health outcomes for people with MS, although reducing red meat and full fat dairy may assist with reducing the consumption of saturated fatty foods overall. Further research is needed to understand if a change in diet can impact health outcomes in MS over time.
A second recent study from the AMSLS team has deepened our understanding of the burden of employment in people with MS who are also living with other health issues. Additional medical conditions that occur with MS are called “comorbidities” and they can impact significantly on people of working age. A total of 929 participants in the AMSLS provided information on their co-morbidities and how they limited work activities. The most common comorbidities for people with MS included osteoarthritis, migraines, anxiety, depression and allergies. The higher the number of these comorbidities in an individual, the more days were lost in work productivity and the higher likelihood of not working at all.
The researchers concluded that comorbidities in MS could substantially impact employment outcomes, and this was often increased if MS symptoms were also more severe. This suggests that effective management of MS and comorbidities could result in mutually beneficial effects for both by reducing symptoms overall and improving employment outcomes. Maintaining close contact with their health team and managing all aspects of health, not just MS, is essential for people living with MS in order to experience the best quality of life possible.
We encourage all Australians with MS over 18 years of age to register with the AMSLS and share their story to help MS research.