Dr George Jelinek and colleagues at the St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Practice Innovation Centre, Melbourne, have conducted a large study of dietary and lifestyle factors in people with MS to investigate the potential effects of fish consumption and omega 3 fatty acid consumption on disease activity and quality of life in people with MS.
The results have been published in the International Journal of Neuroscience (view the abstract here).
Over 2500 people with MS were recruited internationally, via web 2.0 platforms such a facebook and websites. They completed a detailed online questionnaire of diet and lifestyle together with questionnaires to measure various domains of quality of life. Patients also provided self-reported information on relapses and disability, via the patient-determined disease steps (a surrogate for the clinical expanded disability scale status or EDSS measure).
The participants in the study were predominantly female (82%) and the analyses were performed only on those diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS with completed questions regarding fish and omega 3 use – totalling 1368 participants.
The researchers found that those with higher levels of fish consumption and omega 3 supplements scored significantly better in all domains of quality of life. The association was stronger for those consuming fish in comparison to those taking omega 3 supplements.
Although there was a trend towards increasing doses of omega 3 supplementation and lower relapse rates, this did not reach statistical significance. On the other hand, there was a significantly lower relapse rate for those taking flaxseed oil. The researchers also found that those consuming fish 3 or more times per week and those taking flaxseed oil were more likely to have normal or only some disability.
Internationally recognised expert in MS epidemiology, Prof Anne-Louise Ponsonby, Head of Environmental & Genetic Epidemiology Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, agreed that the results are interesting. She said, ‘Jelinek et al are to be commended for investigating lifestyle factors that may influence MS course and demonstrate a strong partnership with people with MS through their use of Web 2.0 platforms’.
Prof Ponsonby continued, ‘As the authors state, the cohort has some limitations in that it is based on self-report and does not have medical data on medication patterns and disease course.’
However Prof Ponsonby agrees with the authors’ conclusion that further studies of dietary modification and randomised controlled trials of omega 3 supplementation for people with MS should be undertaken.
An MSRA-funded study by Ingrid Van Der Mei at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, in collaboration with Prof Ponsonby and others, is currently underway to investigate the role of fats in the progression of MS. The team will be examining the fat profiles of 198 patients, in blood samples collected every 6 months over two and a half years from patients in the Tasmanian MS Longitudinal Study and this will be correlated with detailed clinical data on relapses, disability and MRI scans, as well as other lifestyle and epidemiological factors. The Tasmanian Longitudinal study also incorporates self-reported data from people with MS gathered via an internet survey.
Other recently published studies (see previous news article here) have provided differing results on the benefits of essential fatty acid supplementation.
While a healthy diet and lifestyle is important for everyone, and particularly those with chronic diseases, these studies indicate that there is still some way to go before we can fully understand the role that individual dietary elements may play in MS. People with MS considering a change in diet should only do so in consultation with their neurologist and other health care providers.