The National Multiple Sclerosis Society indicates that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) develop clinical depression more frequently than those with other chronic, disabling conditions.

Regardless of disease severity, depression has a greater impact on MS patients’ quality of life than any other symptom, including motor and sensory deficits, ataxia, visual impairment, bladder and bowel incontinence, cognitive impairment, pain, and fatigue. Additionally, antidepressant medication is often partially or completely ineffective in this patient group.

A team of Australian researchers noted an emerging trend among MS patients with depression: they are increasingly using supplements or lifestyle modification to treat their depression symptoms. The investigators designed a cross-sectional analysis of self-reported survey data from 2459 MS patients to examine associations among lifestyle risk factors, medication, and depression risk. The complete study appeared ahead of print in BMC Psychiatry.

Among the participants, 19.3% screened positive for depression. Patients who had poor diet, low exercise levels, were obese or smoked, or experienced manifest social isolation were more likely to experience depression. As expected, those taking interferon also had elevated depression risk.

Participants who supplemented their diets with omega-3 fatty acids had lower risk for depression than others. In particular, flaxseed oil supplementation appeared to offer protective benefits, as MS patients who took flaxseed oil had one-third the risk of depression compared with others. The authors noted that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was also associated with a reduced risk of relapse.

To a lesser but still significant extent, frequent fish consumption, supplementation with vitamin D, meditation, and moderate alcohol consumption also reduced depression risk in MS patients. The researchers identified a dose-response effect related to fish consumption; as participants’ fish consumption increased, so did their depression risk.