fbpx Skip to main content

Healthy Nutrition Matters, Especially When You’re Living with MS

Approximately 125 million Americans have one or more chronic medical conditions, also known as comorbidities. The most common comorbidities among people living with MS are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, and chronic lung disease. Other common comorbidities include cancers, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and sleep disorders.

Compounding Problems: ‘Comorbidities’ and MS

Research studies show us that living with MS and these other health problems have been associated with more severe disability, faster disability progression, and a higher mortality.

Risk factors for developing other health conditions are generally the same as for those who don’t have MS. They include poor diet (high in calories, sugar, and sodium and low in nutrients), low levels of physical activity, smoking cigarettes, and abusing alcohol and drugs. Possibly the most common and dangerous risk factor is obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 93 million American adults are classified as obese – that’s nearly 40 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 59. The CDC also warns that obesity increases risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Obesity is associated with higher disability and lower physical activity.

The good news is that data from the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Quality of Health Care in America suggests that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases and 40 percent of cancers are preventable. The committee cites four health protective behaviors as being linked with better health and recovery from illness: Being physically active, eating fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, and taking medication as prescribed.

How Can A Healthy Diet Benefit People Living with MS?

Now let’s look at the research on healthy nutrition and MS in particular. There is not a specific diet that controls MS, but we know that good nutrition is important for people with MS because it can have a positive impact on some MS symptoms and also lowers the risk of many other diseases and disorders.

Our understanding about the connection between diet and MS is an evolving body of research. In a study published in the journal Neurology in 2018, researchers led by Dr. Kathryn C. Fitzgerald of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reported on a large-scale cross-sectional study of dietary screener questionnaires. The dietary questionnaires were completed in 2015 by nearly 7,000 participants in the North American Research Committee on MS (NARCOMS) Registry. The study results suggested that a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle are associated with lower levels of disability and symptom severity in MS.

Participants in the study whose diets were higher overall in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and lower in added sugars from sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat were associated with lower disability levels. Overall diet quality also had association with less severe depression. These findings are consistent with other smaller-scale studies of diet in MS patients.

It is important to note here that association is different from causation. The researchers acknowledge that “causal inference cannot be made because poor physical or mental health may lead to poorer diet quality or food choices.”

There is not one specific diet that controls MS, but eating a diet like the Mediterranean diet that is good for our heart – rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains – is also good for our brains. The Mediterranean diet has consistently been demonstrated to provide a degree of protection against major chronic degenerative disease. It’s associated with reductions in overall mortality, cardiovascular mortality, cancer incidence and mortality, and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The Mediterranean diet is also associated with improved longevity. And it has been shown to be effective against depression and cognitive decline.

In this issue, we’ll discuss the values and benefits of the Mediterranean diet in more depth as part of our interview with Registered Dietician and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach Holly Sullivan. We will also discuss practical strategies for incorporating healthy eating into our lives and the important interconnections with healthy eating, exercise, stress and sleep.


Close Menu
Translate Site »
Skip to content