New Study Explores Potential of Mediterranean Diet in Multiple Sclerosis

The gut microbiome may play a key role impact the severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Researchers and health experts alike have reported significant benefits from the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy fats, and fish. Several studies suggest the diet can improve health among patients with various diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

A new study conducted by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine is exploring the role of gut bacteria in inflammation and neurodegeneration, according to a press release. Specifically, they are investigating how a modified Mediterranean diet may help lessen the symptoms of MS.

In previous studies, the gut microbiome of patients with MS was found to differ from healthy patients. Since the bacteria communicate with immune cells in the gut, neurologists hypothesize that there is a link between diet and MS.

The authors believe that changes in the gut microbiome can lead to the development of MS and other autoimmune conditions. They also noted that gut bacteria may impact the progression of MS, according to the release.

A main component of changes to gut microbiota is diet, which prompted researchers to examine specific dietary factors.

“We want to better understand the inflammatory process, the neurodegenerative process, and the effect that diet has on MS symptoms,” said lead researcher Ilana B. Katz Sand, MD. “Our findings could be very important in understanding the onset of MS and how to treat it.”

The researchers are evaluating how inflammatory characteristics of MS may be relieved with a Mediterranean diet that includes fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and avocados, and eliminates meat, dairy, and processed foods.

Thus far, 36 patients have been enrolled in the trial and 18 were randomized to follow the diet for 6 months. The researchers hope to scale up the study and include more patients.

The patients enrolled in the dietary cohort also attend monthly meetings that include presentations to keep them motivated to adhere to the diet, according to the release. These individuals also have the chance to discuss the challenges with the diet and tips.

All patients are asked to complete questionnaires and certain markers for salt, fatty acids, and carotenoids will be tracked. The researchers also plan to track how the diet affects body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose, according to the release.

Other MS symptoms, such as fatigue and depression, will be tracked for potential quality-of-life improvements.

The control group will be offered study visits and presentations on MS-related topics, according to the release. Once the study is over, these patients will be offered guidance on how to start the Mediterranean diet.

The clinical trial started in January 2017 and will finish in April 2018, according to the release.