Soda, Sugary Drinks Linked to More Severe Symptoms for MS Patients

MARCH 22, 2019
Rachel Lutz
Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD

Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD

A new report found that soda and other beverages sweetened with sugar can make symptoms more severe in multiple sclerosis patients.

Investigators from St. Josef Hospital Bochum in Germany surveyed multiple sclerosis patients in order to assess the effect of diet on mechanisms implicated in multiple sclerosis and found that drinking two cans of soda per day meant patients were 5 times more likely to experience severe disability.

“Previously, nutritional components like fish, diverse fats, or vitamin D have been discussed as potential influencing factors in context with MS,” study author Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD, of St. Josef Hospital Bochum, told MD Magazine®. “Therefore, sugar-sweetened beverages were not yet in our focus.”

Investigators asked 135 patients with MS to complete a 102-item food frequency questionnaire and patients also underwent a neurological exam. Investigators calculated Dietary-Approaches-to-Stop-Hypertension (DASH) scores for patients, which is a measure of dietary favorable intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, whole-grains and dairy compared to unfavorable intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, sodium, and red and processed meats. Investigators compared DASH scores to disability status for the patients, including factors like age, sex, body mass index, smoking status and symptom duration. 

Investigators also measured the participants' level of disability using the Expanded Disability Status Scale, a common method to quantify disability. Study authors reported 30 patients had severe disability. The individuals with the highest sugar-sweetened beverage intake had the higher risk of severe vs. moderate-to-severe disability.

Investigators split patients into 5 groups based upon how much soda they drank. The patients with the most severe symptoms drank about two cans of non-diet soda and were 5 times more likely to have more severe disabilities than those in the lowest group, which “seldom” drank sugar-sweetened beverages. Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages were the only type of food in the survey linked to multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Study authors pointed out that there were several limitations, including the relatively small number of participants. In addition to this, the study was limited by only assessing participants' diets and sugar-sweetened beverages at the same time as disability, making it impossible to distinguish whether it is actually an aspect of diet that contributes to higher disability or whether more severe disease impacts a person's ability to have a healthy diet. 

“As this preliminary study has a cross sectional design, we cannot yet distinguish whether it is the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages that leads to worse outcomes in multiple sclerosis or whether it is a more severe disease that makes it more difficult for the patient to have a healthy diet,” Meier-Gerdingh explained. “So, at the moment, it is too early to derive nutritional guidelines or recommendations from our results.”

The abstract, titled “Dietary Intake and the Effect on Disease Progression in People with Multiple Sclerosis”, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 71st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, May 4 to 10, 2019.  

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