New study at Oxford Brookes University to examine link between diet and multiple sclerosis

Salmon with fresh salad vegetables
"Certain foods such as oily fish, fruit, and vegetables may help to reduce symptoms of the condition." Photo: Valeria Bolneva/

A new study aims to find specific diets that could improve the quality of life of people with multiple sclerosis.

Led by researchers from Oxford Brookes University in collaboration with the University of
Melbourne, the study will use data from the nationwide UK MS Register to investigate the
links between diet and the clinical progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers hope their findings will improve the quality of life for people with the condition.
They will evaluate the dietary characteristics of more than 2,000 people with MS in the UK in
order to determine whether diet and particular aspects of diet are predictive of long-term
clinical progression.

MS is a lifelong condition that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms
include problems with vision, movement, sensation, and balance that can sometimes cause
serious disability, although symptoms can be milder. Nearly three million people worldwide
have MS, of which over 130,000 reside in the UK.

Previous research has shown that there are more cases of MS in Western countries where
diets are typically high in calories and saturated fatty acids. However, until now there have
been relatively few studies which examine diet and progression in large numbers of
participants, and fewer still which examine these relationships over time, both of which are
necessary to determine causal relationships.

Dr Shelly Coe, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition at Oxford Brookes, said: “We want to provide
robust evidence to show whether certain inflammatory foods contribute to worse MS
symptoms. This study will, for the first time, provide the kind of evidence which can allow us
to say whether a particular quality of diet can predict clinical outcomes in MS, including
relapse rate, disability, fatigue, anxiety and the general quality of someone’s health.”

“Our previous study suggests that there may be a link between diets high in red meat and
saturated fats to the levels of fatigue and the symptoms of MS, whereas certain foods such
as oily fish, fruit, and vegetables may help to reduce symptoms of the condition.
“But more work needs to be done before we can be confident that specific diets could
contribute to reducing or alleviating the symptoms of MS. Our new research will lead us to
conclusions that will help doctors and nutritionists make positive dietary recommendations to
improve the quality of life for people with MS.”

Researchers say the findings of the study, which gets underway on 1 April, and is set to last
36 months, could have significant implications for patients and clinicians who are managing
MS and may lead to the development of personalised diets for people living with the

Dr Catherine Godbold, Research Communications Manager at the MS Society, says: “We’re
proud to be funding this important study into diet and MS progression and it's great to see
the MS Society funded UK MS Register play a part in the research too. Research suggests some foods may help trigger, or fight, inflammation, but at the moment there isn’t enough
evidence to recommend any special diet for people with MS.

“MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and to stop it, we need to find treatments that slow
progression for everyone. We’re funding research looking at drugs that have the potential to
do this, but people with MS often ask if there are lifestyle changes they can make. The
results of this study will hopefully help to improve our understanding of the factors affecting
MS progression.”