“Obesity and low vitamin D intake in childhood and adolescence have been identified as potential risk factors for adult-onset MS,” explains Lucinda J. Black, PhD. “However, there has been very little research conducted on diet during these life stages and its association with the risk for developing MS in adulthood. Therefore, my colleagues and I investigated whether diet in children and young adults might influence adult-onset MS.”

For a paper published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal, Dr. Black and colleagues used data collected from the MS Sunshine Study, a United States case-control study examining possible risk factors for MS that recruited adults aged 18 and older with recent-onset MS (n = 602) and matched controls (n = 653). Of these, 84% provided dietary recall for specific ages between childhood and young adulthood (6-10, 11-15, and 16-20). The researchers used logistic regression to test associations between age-specific diet and case-control status.

Yogurt & Fruit Linked to Lower Risk of Adult-Onset MS

“Our study suggests that a healthy diet in childhood and young adulthood may be linked with a lower risk of developing MS later in life,” Dr. Black says. “This information is particularly important for close family members of people with MS, who may be at higher risk of developing MS than the general population.”

The study team had information on 13 types of food consumed between childhood and adolescence. “Consuming fruit and yogurt during these periods was linked to a lower risk of later developing MS,” Dr. Black says. “These foods are featured as healthy choices in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and indicate an overall healthy dietary pattern (Table).” There was no evidence, however, of any significant associations with the frequency of consumption of other foods and adult-onset MS.

Childhood obesity, as well as other environmental risk factors during childhood and adolescence have been associated with increased likelihood of adult-onset MS, the study’s authors write. It is not clear, however, whether this is due to a longer exposure time or whether childhood/adolescence is a critical period for risk factor exposure in the genesis of adult-onset MS. Further knowledge about potential environmental risk factors, including diet and its relationship to obesity during these early life stages, the authors note, is essential for promoting strategies to reduce the risk of adult-onset MS.

Dr. Black and colleagues explain that previous studies support a protective association between recent fish consumption and risk of MS, with one study indicating that consuming at least one serving of fresh fish every 2 weeks was linked with lower likelihood of MS. However, they found no such association in this study, although fish consumption across all ages was low, with nearly half of the participants consuming no fish at any age.

Some Food Recommendations Not Supported by Evidence

“Many people with MS are interested in making healthy dietary changes for themselves and their families,” Dr. Black says. “The findings from our study can help neurologists counsel their patients with MS into making healthful dietary choices by promoting national dietary guidelines.”

The link between diet and MS remains unclear, however, Dr. Black adds. “The concern is that people with MS will often change their diet based on recommendations that are not supported by evidence,” she explains. “We need additional high-quality research to improve our understanding of the connection between diet and MS, because making dietary changes is something people can implement in their daily lives.”