Dietary factors to reduce MS risk and progression

Dr Lucinda Black

Curtin University, WA

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Fellowship | 2019 | Investigator Led Research |


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.

Progress to Date

Although the restrictions enforced during 2020 led to disruptions in the study, Dr Black and her team have forged ahead to gain some new dietary insights around MS.  Dr Black’s analysis has revealed several important and fascinating relationships between specific dietary factors and the risk of MS.

  • A higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was significantly associated with increased likelihood of developing MS
  • Consumption of fruit (at all ages), yoghurt (at all ages) and legumes (at 11–15 years of age) was associated with lower probability of adult-onset MS.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 MS onset. Going forward, further research could also 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. It is expected that new findings will be released in the coming year to address the use of fish oil supplements in MS, dairy consumption in MS, and outcomes from a Mediterranean diet and the progression of MS.


  • Russell R, Black LJ, Begley A* (2021) Navigating dietary advice for multiple sclerosis. Health Expect (in press)
  • Black LJ*, Hetherton S, Forkan M, Gonzales EG, Smith JB, Daly A, Lucas RM, Langer-Gould A (2021) An exploratory study of diet in childhood and young adulthood and adult-onset multiple sclerosis, Mult Scler doi: 10.1177/1352458520986964.
  • Dunne J, Chih HJ, Begley A, Daly A, Gerlach R, Schütze R, Castell E, Byrne J, Black LJ (2020). A randomised controlled trial to test the feasibility of online mindfulness programs for people with multiple sclerosis Mult Scler Relat Disord 48:102728.
  • Simpson S, Oddy W, Taylor B, Lucas R, Black L, Ponsonby A-L, Blizzard L, Dwyer T, van der Mei I*. (2020) High Prudent diet factor score predicts lower relapse hazard in early multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler
  • Russell R, Black LJ, Begley A*. (2020). The unresolved role of the neurologist in providing dietary advice to people with multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Relat Disord
  • Russell R, Black LJ, Pham NM, Begley A*. (2020) The effectiveness of emotional wellness programs on mental health outcomes for adults with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Mult Scler Relat Disord 44:102171.
  • Russell R, Black LJ, Begley A*. (2020) Dietary education programs for adults with neurological diseases: a scoping review protocol. JBI Database Syst Rev Implement Rep 18:1-7.

Updated: 14 April 2021

Updated: 04 January, 2019

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years


Grant Awarded

  • Postdoctoral Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $120,000


  • 3 years

Funding Partner

  • MSWA
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Ms Alice Saul

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Dietary factors to reduce MS risk and progression