Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet for MS Patients: Many Benefits, but No MRI Improvements

AUGUST 03, 2016
Dava Stewart
neurology, neurologists, MS, MS treatment, primary care, MS diagnosis, multiple sclerosis, internal medicine, MS treatment, disability, MRI, diet, plant-based diet, plants, eating betterA recent study found that while a low-fat, plant-based diet did not result in improvements in brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, it did bring about less fatigue, better body mass index (BMI) measures, and improved metabolic biomarkers. The study, published online in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders on July 6, 2016, was conducted by Vijayshree Yadav, MD, of the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University in the United States, and colleagues.
The study was undertaken to find out how a very low-fat, plant-based diet would affect brain MRI, clinical and metabolic outcomes, quality of life, and fatigue in patients with relapsing-remitting MS. Although both patients and clinicians are interested in dietary interventions, few studies have addressed questions of how or whether such interventions would be helpful.
There were 61 participants, randomized to either a diet group or a control group. The study lasted one year, was conducted at a single center, and was assessor-blinded. “The study was based on starchy plant foods (beans, breads, corn, pastas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice with the addition of fruits and non-starchy vegetables),” the researchers report. Only 10% of the calorie-intake was fats, and meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, as well as vegetable oils were prohibited. Both groups were encouraged to exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 times per week.
The majority (85%) of the participants in the diet group adhered during the 12-month period. At the end of the study, MRI results showed no significant differences between the diet group and the control group. Additionally, there were no differences in the number of relapses experienced by the two groups.
The diet group did experience less fatigue than the control group, even when the researchers controlled for differences at baseline. The researchers add, “We found a trend for greater improvement in the Short Form-36 (SF-36) mental scale in the diet group compared to controls,” however, they “found no improvements in other QOL and subjective measures including Pain Effects Scale, Perceived Deficits Questionnaire, Bowel Control Scale and the Physical SF-36.”
The researchers conclude, “this study demonstrates the practical feasibility of using a very-low-fat, plant-based diet in people with MS,” adding, “Over the 12 month period, the diet was safe, reduced BMI, lipid and insulin levels and appeared to improve fatigue.” They suggest that future studies need to further explore the potential benefits of a low-fat diet in patients with MS.

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