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02 Nov 2015 - MS Society - Dietary Omega-3 Linked to Lower Risk of First Diagnosis of Central Nervous System Demyelination

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

An ongoing study on MS risk factors in Australia found that eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish but not from plants, was associated with a decreased risk of developing a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination (an episode that indicates a high risk of MS).

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

For details of this research, see
This new finding that lower 'dietary omega-3 intake' predicts a shorter time to first clinical diagnosis of 'demyelination' (the damage to nerve sheaths associated with multiple sclerosis) is obviously of considerable interest - and is consistent with numerous other studies linking low dietary omega-3 intakes with degenerative disease - physical and mental. However, as the authors and the National MS Society caution, correlation does not prove causation - for which different kinds of studies would be needed.

It is also worth noting that not all omega-3 are the same - and as usual, the apparent protection was observed mainly for the long-chain omega-3 from fish and seafood.

The shorter-chain omega-3 (ALA) found in some nuts, seeds and plant oils do not have the same biological effects as the long-chain omega-3 (EPA and DHA). And conversion of ALA to the main omega-3 found in brain and nerve tissue (DHA) is not reliable in humans (Brenna et al 2009).

Summary

• An ongoing study on MS risk factors in Australia found that eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish but not from plants, was associated with a decreased risk of developing a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination (an episode that indicates a high risk of MS). Intake of other types of dietary fat or fat quantity was not associated with this risk.

• This team is continuing to follow the group to determine if there is a similar effect on the course of MS.

• The team, led by Samuel Hoare (The Australian National University) has published results in the MS Journal.

Background: 

Fat is an essential nutrient for the body. While some fats are deemed “bad,” others, such as polyunsaturated fats, actually help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. These polyunsaturated fats — and the omega-3 fatty acids they contain — have been the focus of MS studies with some evidence pointing to benefits for relapsing-remitting MS.

The Ausimmune study was undertaken with co-funding from the National MS Society to investigate sun exposure and vitamin D levels in people who had not yet been diagnosed with MS, but who had experienced a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination, more commonly called CIS. CIS (clinically isolated syndrome) is a syndrome in which a person experiences a single neurological event suggestive of myelin damage, such as numbness, coordination problems, or decrease in vision in one eye, and also shows MRI findings suggestive of MS. People with CIS may never develop definite MS, or it can be a prelude to being diagnosed with definite MS.

The Study: 

In this study, the Ausimmune investigators collected information on dietary intake from 267 people with CIS and 517 controls without CIS. Using several questionnaires, the team ascertained fatty acid intake from food in the 12 months before enrollment in the study.  Fatty acid intake from supplements, if any, was not assessed.

The results show that a significant decrease in the risk of developing CIS was associated with a higher daily intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly those obtained from eating fatty fish.

The team, led by Samuel Hoare (The Australian National University) have published these results in the MS Journal

Next Steps: The Ausimmune team notes that it is continuing to follow this group, administering repeated dietary questionnaires, to determine if there is a benefit of polyunsaturated fatty acids on the course of MS.

Read more about Omega-3 fatty acids and MS.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.