A new preliminary study has found that following a Mediterranean diet can help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) reduce their risk of cognitive decline and memory loss by up to 20%. The study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Boston, involved 563 people with MS who self-reported how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet. Researchers found that cognitive impairment was less common in those who adhered more closely to the diet, particularly those with progressive MS. The study also considered other lifestyle factors that could affect cognitive impairment, such as smoking, physical activity levels, and socioeconomic status.
The Mediterranean diet includes anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil. Inflammation in the body can worsen symptoms of medical conditions and cause damage to organs. The diet’s benefits are likely due to its plant-based foods and anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts. It also excludes processed and ultra-processed foods that promote inflammation. Foods to be consumed in moderation or avoided include dairy products, red and processed meats, and saturated fatty acids.
Kathy Zackowski, PhD, the associate vice president of research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, emphasized the importance of diet as part of MS management. She noted that the study suggests the Mediterranean diet may positively impact cognitive disability in people with MS, particularly those with progressive MS. She also called for further research to determine which features of the diet are critical to cognition. Non-dietary lifestyle-based approaches such as stress management, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep may also help manage MS symptoms.