Demystifying diet and nutrition in MS

  • MS Research Australia has funded 3 projects in the 2021 grant round looking at the impact of dietary factors in MS.
  • The projects cover a wide range of possible effects of diet on MS, ranging from studies in the laboratory to community studies working with people living with MS and dieticians.
  • The studies include investigating the effects of increasing dietary protein on MS, the impact of polyunsaturated fatty acids (in foods such as fish) on MS, and the development of a mobile phone app to improve food choices in people living with MS.

MS Research Australia is excited to announce several newly funded studies as part of the 2021 grant round, focusing on the impact of dietary factors in multiple sclerosis (MS). Diet has been of great interest in MS, not just in terms of risk in developing MS, but also possible effects on the progression of MS following diagnosis. These projects cover a wide range of research interests, from the laboratory to the community.

Protein and gut inflammation in MS

Associate Professor Laurence Macia from the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, NSW, has received incubator grant funding to explore the effects of dietary protein on inflammatory features of MS.

Based on the assumption that increasing the intake of protein in the diet may promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, Associate Professor Macia will investigate whether increasing dietary proteins reduces inflammatory cell activity in a laboratory model of MS. Associate Professor Macia is also currently investigating the effects of intermittent fasting on gut bacteria in an earlier incubator grant from MS Research Australia.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids and MS

In partnership with MS WA, Dr Lucinda Black from Curtin University in Western Australia has been awarded a project grant to explore the relationship between a higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and the risk of developing MS and disease progression. These particular fatty acids are found in fish oil supplements and oily fish, including salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

To do this, Dr Black and her team will measure PUFA levels in blood samples and link these levels to clinical outcomes in people with MS. This research will utilise data collected in previous research studies that MS Research Australia has supported, including the AusImmune and AusLong studies. If this project confirms that these fatty acids are beneficial in MS, the impact of this research could be substantial, as increasing intake could be incorporated into the daily diet for people living with MS. Dr Black is also currently an MS Research Australia supported post-doctoral fellowship recipient for her research exploring other relationships between diet and MS.

A tech approach to wellness

Symptoms such as fatigue, pain, depression and cognitive issues can play havoc with day-to-day life for people living with MS and impact food and nutrition choices in the short and long term. Dr Vivienne Guan from the University of Wollongong in NSW has been awarded a post-doctoral fellowship to explore how to better manage these dietary issues. Dr Guan and her team aim to develop and evaluate a mobile phone app that promotes current Australian dietary guidelines, to alleviate the stress surrounding dietary choices – resulting in healthier food choices at a lower cost. Dr Guan will engage with dietitians and people living with MS during the app development to ensure the app is user friendly and practical to improve the quality of life for people living with MS.

What does this mean for people with MS?

As diet and nutrition is important to people living with MS, MS Research Australia remains committed to exploring this modifiable lifestyle factor as an important area of research focus. Many people living with MS will look forward to the outcomes of these studies and hopefully being able to easily engage with food choices that may improve their quality of life and lessen the impact of MS.

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Demystifying diet and nutrition in MS