OHSU researchers elucidate the role of diet in treating people with MS

A first-time controlled clinical trial found that a low-fat, plant-based diet significantly improved the health of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) by reducing both fatigue and weight. Those improvements go hand-in-hand with fighting some of the most debilitating effects of MS, according to the study’s lead author, Vijayshree Yadav, M.D., a MS neurologist with the Oregon Brain Institute at OHSU.

While the new research did not show differences in the MS lesions on the brain imaging, relapse rate or disability in the two study groups, active and control, this likely was in part due to short duration of the study.

The study sheds new light on the role of diet as a treatment for people living with MS. Although practitioners have promoted low-fat diets for decades, the approach had never been subjected to a well-controlled clinical trial, until now. “Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial” was published July 1 in the science journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, an Elsevier publication.

Sixty-one people participated in the study with 32 following the low-fat plant-based diet during the one year of the study and 29 who did not alter their diet. Eight participants withdrew during the study, including six from the diet group and two from the control group.

Key findings:

• Researchers found no difference in MS-related lesions on the brain, relapse rate and disability between the two study groups. Researchers measured these differences for one year.

• The low-fat, plant-based diet did improve important aspects of health for those who followed the diet compared with the control group, including a reduction in fatigue and loss of weight.

• Researchers noted that the benefits of modern FDA approved therapies for treating MS likely outweigh the effects of a plant-based diet in reducing disease activity. Yadav noted that it’s therefore important for a low-fat diet to complement, rather than replace, other therapies.

The study includes additional researchers from OHSU’s Department of Neurology: Gail Marracci, Ph.D., Edward Kim, M.D., Rebecca Spain, M.D., M.S.P.H., Michelle Cameron, M.D., P.T., and Dennis Bourdette, M.D.; the Department of Veterans Affairs; MS/MRI Research Group at the University of British Columbia; The McDougall Research and Education Foundation in Santa Rosa, Calif.; and Louisiana State University.

Research reported here was supported by National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number UL1TR000128. Additional support came from the McDougall Research and Education Foundation, A Gift from the Berger Family.