MS is a chronic, inflammatory condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing lesions and affecting muscle strength and movement. Certain lifestyle factors, such as low sun exposure, low vitamin D levels and smoking have been shown to increase the risk of developing MS. Although nutritional factors have long been of interest in MS, the link between diet and MS remains unclear.
This project uses dietary intake information and blood samples from people with early signs and symptoms of MS, available through studies in Australia and in the US, to investigate whether specific foods or nutrients can help reduce the risk of disease onset and progression in MS. The impacts of dietary factors such as following a Mediterranean diet, consuming foods with anti-inflammatory properties, and blood levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and other fats are being assessed.
Dr Black’s analysis has revealed several important and fascinating relationships between specific dietary factors and the risk of MS.
Firstly, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was significantly associated with increased likelihood of developing MS.
Interestingly in women, the probability of developing MS was significantly associated with the Dietary Inflammation Index (DII). These findings suggest an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce the likelihood of developing MS for women.
In contrast, there was no association between a person’s diet in early life and risk of developing MS as an adult in a study of American adults. In addition, while the study found a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of people with MS, this was probably due to the fact that people with MS were more likely to be taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, rather than this being a biological effect associated with having MS.
Finally, despite the evidence that obesity can worsen MS prognosis, and the high prevalence of
overweight/obesity in the general population, participants with MS were no more likely to adopt a specific diet than those who did not have MS.
Results from this project so far provide new insights into the role of diet in the risk of onset of MS. Going forward, further research could also help provide evidence that could lead to the development of a clinical trial to test appropriate dietary strategies to reduce progression in the early stages of the disease. The results of this study could also potentially lead to evidence-based dietary recommendations for people with MS and those at high risk of MS.
Updated 18 June 2020
Updated: 04 January, 2019
Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.
Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.
Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.