The Mediterranean diet and the risk of multiple sclerosis.

Last August, a very interesting study on the involvement of the Mediterranean diet in the development of multiple sclerosis was published in the scientific journal Multiple Sclerosis Journal (2023 Aug;29(9):1118-1125). This is a multidisciplinary study, in which different departments of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden) have participated and which has been led by Dr. Anna Karin Hedström.

The authors’ objective in this study was to clarify whether dietary habits influence the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

With this goal, the researchers recruited 1953 people affected by multiple sclerosis who were between 16 and 70 years old, and for each person affected by multiple sclerosis they recruited two control people (3557) of the same sex, similar age and who lived in the same geographical area.

All participants were asked about their eating habits. In particular, they were asked which of the following diets they had followed during the last five years: a Western diet (normal/mixed diet), a vegan/vegetarian diet, a vegetarian diet with fish consumption, a Mediterranean diet, a glycemic index diet or other diet, and also how much white and blue fish they consumed.

Because other factors such as tobacco, alcohol, obesity in adolescence, physical exercise, sun exposure or the genetic background can also influence the development of multiple sclerosis, participants also reported these factors to prevent that their effect would contaminate the results of the eating habits results.

The comparison of the diets that people affected by multiple sclerosis and controls had followed during the last five years showed that the probability to develop multiple sclerosis is lower if someone follows a Mediterranean diet compared to following a Western diet. No association could be demonstrated between the vegan/vegetarian diet or the glycemic index diet with respect to the risk of suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The Mediterranean diet is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, fish and olive oil, which means high amounts of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and unsaturated fats with an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effect that is beneficial for our body and our microbiota. In addition, the people who declared that they followed a Mediterranean diet were more often women and reported greater exposure to the sunlight, more physical activity and less alcohol consumption than the Western diet group, which associates this diet with a generally healthier lifestyle and therefore indicates that the Mediterranean diet involves more than just nutrients.

Furthermore, it is important to note that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet were more often of non-Nordic origin and so probably have fewer multiple sclerosis susceptibility genes, since these genes are more common in northern Europe.

People affected by multiple sclerosis reported greater tobacco addiction and a higher body mass index during adolescence than controls regardless of the diet they followed, which supports the important influence of tobacco and obesity during adolescence on the development of this disease.

There are many possible triggers of multiple sclerosis, so there are also many ways by which we can reduce the risk of developing it, and, among these, healthy lifestyle and particularly the diet should be highlighted.

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