Multiple Sclerosis: A low-fat diet can help with fatigue

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Does a low-fat diet help treat MS symptoms? Image credit: Maki Nakamura/Getty Images.
  • A new study shows that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) may experience improvement in fatigue by adopting a low-fat diet.
  • Symptoms of MS, including pain or fatigue, can improve when patients follow a healthy eating plan.
  • Experts agree that further research is needed to understand the link between MS, fatigue and adopting a low-fat diet.

The previous one research supports the idea that eating low-fat foods can improve a person’s overall health, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may experience improvement in fatigue by adopting a low-fat diet, according to a new study. The findings were published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

In this randomized controlled trial, researchers looked at 39 MS patients who experienced fatigue. They were divided into two groups: 19 people were in the control group and at the end of the 4-month study they received nutrition training.

The other 20 people, the active group, received 2 weeks of nutritional counseling and then followed a low-fat diet for 12 weeks. Their blood was regularly tested to see the health effects.

The group that received nutritional counseling and adopted a low-fat diet showed a large improvement in fatigue, as measured by the Modified Fatigue Impact Scale. Once a month, the participants answered questions to the researchers to analyze their ability to concentrate, focus and perform daily physical activities.

“With this randomized controlled trial, we are able to show that dietary changes can play a significant role in the management of symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis (MS),” said Vijayshree Yadav, Ph.D., principal investigator and senior author, professor of neurology at OHSU School of Medicine and director of the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center Medical news today.

The study that diet can change symptoms in people with MS is a significant finding and adds to the body of literature that diet is important in people with MS. People with MS constantly wonder what kind of diet they should follow. This study will add scientific validity to these questions, she added.

However, further research is needed to better understand the link between fatigue, MS and low-fat diets.

As a next step, we are working on studying the blood collected from these subjects who participated in the diet study, explained Dr. Yadav. A blood test will show chemical changes using advanced techniques and may shed light on how fatigue changes in people with MS on a low-fat diet. We expect to receive these results in the next 6 months. In addition, we plan to conduct more studies to confirm these findings in a larger MS population [United States].

Diet has been of interest in the link to MS for many years, said Dr. Erin Longbrake, associate professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine and director of clinical research in neuroimmunology. Dr. Longbrake was not involved in this study.

She advised that:

Although there is no solid evidence that any diet is sufficient to control the disease itself, some disease symptoms can be improved by certain diets, this study looked at a low-fat diet and with some caveats showed that people following the diet reported greater improvements in fatigue during the study compared to those in the control group.

This is consistent with my clinical experience; MS symptoms like pain or fatigue are sometimes better when patients follow a healthy eating plan like this low-fat diet compared to when they don’t, Dr. Longbrake continued.

Dr. John W. Lindsey, professor and director of the Division of Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology at UTHealth Houston’s McGovern School of Medicine, also not involved in the research, explained that the relationship between diet and fatigue is unknown and uncertain.

Researchers did this study to test whether high fat intake was associated with fatigue. They found a modest improvement in fatigue in subjects on a low-fat diet. Their diets also cut out red meat, and the participants ended up eating fewer total calories and would change their intake of other food groups, Dr. Lindsey said.

It is not clear which of these changes could benefit. We should also consider the role of the placebo effect, because the subjects who changed their diet knew they were making the changes and hoped for an improvement in fatigue, he added.

Although a low-fat diet can be beneficial for MS patients, it is also good for a person’s overall health.

People with MS who suffer from fatigue may want to consider trialling dietary changes to see if their symptoms are less distressing, Dr. Longbrake explained. A low-fat diet would be one example of a dietary change. In general, dietary changes must be observed consistently for weeks or months before conclusions can be drawn about whether or not they are helping.

There are simple healthy substitutes that can make a difference.

A low-fat diet is better for overall health and is a good idea regardless of the effect on MS, Dr Lindsay said. You can reduce the intake of fried food, replace red meat with grilled fish or chicken, increase the intake of fruits and vegetables.

The recent study faced several limitations that are important to note.

There are caveats with this work, [including a] a smaller number of patients than desired, so there was probably insufficient power to detect differences in fatigue, Dr. Longbrake pointed out.

In addition, patients in the control group also changed their diet during the study and also reported some improvements in fatigue. I think we still don’t have a full understanding of the extent to which a change in diet can affect MS symptoms, he noted.

However, there is certainly no harm in following a low-fat diet, this is already recommended in US Dietary Guidelines and patients may want to try these lifestyle modifications, Dr. Longbrake added.

Future work will need to examine the generalizability of the findings of this study, as well as whether other types of dietary modifications may also prove beneficial.

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