Dietary and lifestyle factors in multiple sclerosis progression: results from a 5-year longitudinal MRI study

J Neurol. 2019 Apr;266(4):866-875. doi: 10.1007/s00415-019-09208-0. Epub 2019 Feb 13.


Background: Evidence regarding the role, if any, of dietary and lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS) is poorly understood.

Objective: To assess the effect of lifestyle-based risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease (CVD) on clinical and MRI-derived MS outcomes.

Methods: The study enrolled 175 MS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) patients and 42 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HCs) who were longitudinally followed for 5.5 years. The 20-year CVD risk was calculated by Healthy Heart Score (HHS) prediction model which includes age, smoking, body mass index, dietary intake, exercise, and alcohol consumption. Baseline and follow-up MRI scans were obtained and cross-sectional and longitudinal changes of T2-lesion volume (LV), whole brain volume (WBV), white matter volume (WMV), gray matter volume (GMV), and lateral ventricular volume (LVV) were calculated.

Results: After correcting for disease duration, the baseline HHS values of the MS group were associated with baseline GMV (rs = - 0.20, p = 0.01), and longitudinal LVV change (rs = 0.19, p = 0.01). The association with LVV remained significant after adjusting for baseline LVV volumes (rs = 0.2, p = 0.008) in MS patients. The diet component of the HHS was associated with the 5-year T2-LV accrual (rs = - 0.191, p = 0.04) in MS. In the HC group, the HHS was associated with LVV (rs = 0.58, p < 0.001), GMV (rs = - 0.57, p < 0.001), WBV (rs = - 0.55, p = 0.001), T2-LV (rs = 0.41, p = 0.027), and WMV (rs = - 0.38, p = 0.042). Additionally, the HC HHS was associated with the 5-year change in LVV (rs = 0.54, p = 0.001) and in WBV (rs = - 0.45, p = 0.011).

Conclusion: Lifestyle risk factors contribute to accelerated central brain atrophy in MS patients, whereas unhealthier diet is associated with MS lesion accrual. Despite the lower overall effect when compared to HCs, lifestyle-based modifications may still provide a beneficial effect on reducing brain atrophy in MS patients.

Keywords: Alcohol; Central brain atrophy; Diet; Exercise; Lifestyle; MRI; MS; Smoking; T2-lesions.

MeSH terms

  • Atrophy
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Demyelinating Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / therapy
  • Diet*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Risk Factors