There is a lot of interest in the role of diet and lifestyle modifications in MS, from both from people with MS and the research communities, because changes to lifestyle are relatively easy to make and can be beneficial. Previous research has shown that polyunsaturated fatty acids, and in particular, omega 3 found in fish and seafood may be beneficial in MS, but more work is needed.
This new report adds to this field of research by focusing on fish consumption and fish oil supplement use. The study was led by Dr Annette Langer-Gould from the Kaiser Permanente in Southern California and involved Australian collaborators, Dr Lucinda Black from Curtin University, WA and Professor Robyn Lucas from the Australian National University in Canberra. The Team questioned 1,153 people about the amount of fish they regularly ate and whether they took fish oil supplements. People were classified as either ‘high intake’ or ‘low intake’ according to how much fish they ate. Those in the high intake category ate one serving of fish per week or one to three servings per month in addition to taking daily fish oil supplements. People in the ‘low intake’ category had less than one serving of fish per month and no fish oil supplements.
The responses from people with MS or CIS (clinically isolated syndrome, a precursor of MS) were compared to the responses from people who did not have MS. 180 people with MS fell into the high intake category, while 251 people without MS were high intake. This translates to a 45% reduction in the risk of developing MS in for people who ate more fish and fish oil supplements.
While this is an excellent result, the scientists stressed that this is an association study – research that shows that two things are linked – but cannot demonstrate cause and effect.
The second part of the study looked at the genetics of participants. They examined 13 differences in the genes that regulate the way the body deals with fatty acids. They identified that two of these genetic changes were linked to a decreased risk of developing MS, independently of the amount of fish in a person’s diet. This suggests that both our diet and our genetic make-up may influence our risk of developing MS.
Research into diet and lifestyle can be difficult, since it is hard to separate out the many different components of diet and the effects of other lifestyle factors at any given point in a person’s life. However a healthy diet which contains high levels of fresh foods and a wide range of essential nutrients and avoids too much processed food, is important for wellbeing generally, including for people with MS. This study adds further weight to the idea that omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular may be beneficial to people at risk of developing MS.
“This study provides more evidence that a diet rich in fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has health benefits,” commented Dr Langer-Gould, “In addition to promoting improved cardiovascular health, a high-fish or seafood diet may also reduce the risk of developing MS.”