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New evidence-based guide on modifying lifestyle for people with MS

  • People with MS are interested in how modifying their lifestyle might positively impact their MS, but there has been a lack of evidence-based information to provide guidance on this.
  • MS Research Australia convened a working group of national MS experts to analyse the available evidence across a range of lifestyle factors.
  • The findings have been compiled into two practical guides – one for people with MS and one for health professionals – which are launching soon.

Modifiable lifestyle factors are aspects of life that can influence MS disease progression and disability, such as diet, exercise, gut health, or smoking. There have been many interesting discoveries in this area; however, there has been a lack of practical, evidence-based guidance on modifying lifestyle and how this could improve MS symptoms – until now.

Launching soon – new lifestyle guidelines for managing MS

We have been working with clinicians, researchers, allied health professionals and people affected by MS to create evidence-based recommendations on how Australians could modify their lifestyle to help manage their MS. Two guides have been developed – one for people with MS, Adapting Your Lifestyle: A Guide for People with MS, and one for health professionals, Modifiable Lifestyle Factors And MS: A Guide for Health Professionals. They are the first of their kind to be published in Australia and are available now!

What is included in the guidelines?

The topics covered in these guidelines are related to both lifestyle choices and the impact of some environmental factors on MS. These include smoking, physical activity, diet, gut health, supplements, vitamin D and sun exposure, weight and obesity, medical conditions in addition to MS (comorbidities), and lipids.

Practical evidence-based recommendations are included within each section, plus tips and MS myth busters, to help make modifying areas of lifestyle as straightforward as possible.

Dr Julia Morahan, the Head of Research at MS Research Australia said, “We are extremely proud of this piece of work, and incredibly grateful to the national expert panel who worked tirelessly to analyse and distil the scientific evidence into clear guidelines for meaningful action for people with MS.”

Why has MS Research Australia put these guidelines together?

There is a fast-growing body of robust scientific evidence on the effect of lifestyle factors on MS. This comes from many sources including large population (epidemiological) studies through to carefully controlled clinical trials.

In parallel, there is a sea of “fake news” with unsubstantiated claims in the media and in product marketing, reinforced by celebrity comment and endorsement. Amidst this, there is the invaluable lived experience of individual people with MS who have found that a particular lifestyle change coincides with a profound or even a small but meaningful improvement for them.

It was clear following our 2016 research priorities survey of the Australian MS community and subsequent modifiable lifestyle factors workshop that the Australian MS community was in need of empowering lifestyle modification recommendations based on the weight of current scientific evidence. The voice of people with MS is paramount in directing our research priorities and we convened a working group to produce the guidelines.

What about lifestyle factors for which the evidence is controversial or preliminary?

The evidence base on modifiable lifestyle factors is growing quickly and we support many research projects in this area (some examples of these include ‘dietary factors to reduce the MS risk’, ‘vitamin D MS prevention trial’, and our ‘lifestyle factors MS workshop’).

“In this first iteration of the guidelines, we have noted studies of some lifestyle modifications that look promising, but for which the evidence base is not yet sufficient to make formal recommendations according to the definitions of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). We view these as living documents that will be updated regularly as the body of evidence grows,” says Dr Julia Morahan.

Adapting Your Lifestyle: A Guide For People With MS and Modifiable Lifestyle Factors and MS: A Guide For Health Professionals will be available for download soon.

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New evidence-based guide on modifying lifestyle for people with MS