Low-fat diet helps fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis

May 1, 2014

People with multiple sclerosis who for one year followed a plant-based diet very low in saturated fat had much less MS-related fatigue at the end of that year—and significantly less fatigue than a control group of people with MS who didn't follow the diet, according to an Oregon Health & Science University study being presented today at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.

The study was the first randomized-controlled trial to examine the potential benefits of the low fat diet on the management of MS. The study found no significant differences between the two groups in brain lesions detected on MRI brain scans or on other measures of MS. But while the number of trial participants was relatively small, study leaders believe the significantly improved fatigue symptoms merited further and larger studies of the diet.

"Fatigue can be a debilitating problem for many people living with relapsing-remitting MS," said Vijayshree Yadav, M.D., an associate professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and clinical medical director of the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center. "So this study's results—showing some notable improvement in fatigue for people who follow this diet—are a hopeful hint of something that could help many people with MS."

The study investigated the effects of following a diet called the McDougall Diet, devised by John McDougall, M.D. The diet is partly based on an MS-fighting diet developed in the 1940s and 1950s by the late Roy Swank, M.D., a former head of the division of neurology at OHSU. The McDougall diet, very low in , focuses on eating starches, fruits and vegetables and does not include meat, fish or dairy products.

The study, which began in 2008, looked at the diet's effect on the most common form of MS, called relapsing-remitting MS. About 85 percent of people with MS have relapsing-remitting MS, characterized by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurological function followed by recovery periods when symptoms improve partially or completely.

The study measured indicators of MS among a group of people who followed the McDougall Diet for 12 months and a that did not. The study measured a range of MS indicators and symptoms, including brain lesions on MRI brain scans of study participants, relapse rate, disabilities caused by the disease, body weight and cholesterol levels.

It found no difference between the diet group and the control group in the number of MS-caused detected on the MRI scans. It also found no difference between the two groups in relapse rate or level of disability caused by the disease. People who followed the diet did lose significantly more weight than the control group and had significantly lower cholesterol levels. People who followed the diet also had higher scores on a questionnaire that measured their quality of life and overall mood.

The study's sample size was relatively small. Fifty-three people completed the study, with 27 in the control group and 22 people in the diet group who complied with the diet's restrictions.

"This study showed the low-fat diet might offer some promising help with the fatigue that often comes with MS," said Dennis Bourdette, M.D., F.A.A.N., chair of OHSU's Department of Neurology, director of OHSU's MS Center and a study co-author. "But further study is needed, hopefully with a larger trial where we can more closely look at how the might help fatigue and possibly affect other symptoms of MS."

Explore further: Researchers link body temperature to relapsing-remitting MS and fatigue

Related Stories

Researchers link body temperature to relapsing-remitting MS and fatigue

March 18, 2014
Kessler Foundation researchers have demonstrated for the first time ever that body temperature is elevated endogenously in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) and linked to worse fatigue. The article was published ...

Study suggests targeting B cells may help with MS

April 24, 2014
A new study suggests that targeting B cells, which are a type of white blood cell in the immune system, may be associated with reduced disease activity for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The study is released today ...

Statins slow the progression of advanced multiple sclerosis in clinical trial

March 18, 2014
Statins may provide doctors with an unlikely new weapon with which to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Preliminary results for combined therapy show improvement in MS symptoms

April 29, 2014
Combining the estrogen hormone estriol with Copaxone, a drug indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), may improve symptoms in patients with the disorder, according to preliminary ...

Guideline: Medical marijuana in pill form or oral spray may ease some MS symptoms

March 24, 2014
A new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that there is little evidence that most complementary or alternative medicine therapies (CAM) treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the guideline ...

Do obesity, birth control pills raise risk of multiple sclerosis?

February 27, 2014
The role of the so-called "obesity hormone" leptin and hormones used for birth control in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) is examined in two new studies released today that will be presented at the American Academy ...

Recommended for you

Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds

July 25, 2017
Just as athletes cross-train to improve physical skills, those wanting to enhance cognitive skills can benefit from multiple ways of exercising the brain, according to a comprehensive new study from University of Illinois ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

Brain stimulation may improve cognitive performance in people with schizophrenia

July 24, 2017
Brain stimulation could be used to treat cognitive deficits frequently associated with schizophrenia, according to a new study from King's College London.

New map may lead to drug development for complex brain disorders, researcher says

July 24, 2017
Just as parents are not the root of all their children's problems, a single gene mutation can't be blamed for complex brain disorders like autism, according to a Keck School of Medicine of USC neuroscientist.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.