Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Memory Loss in Patients with MS

A new study suggests that a Mediterranean diet may decrease risk for problems with cognition in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Preliminary results from the study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) 75th Annual Meeting in Boston, MA from April 22 to April 27, 2023. Conducted by researchers at the AAN, the investigation aimed to determine the benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet, primarily composed of vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish, olive oil, and other healthy fats, on loss of memory and thinking skills.

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Included in the study were 563 people with MS. Each participant completed a questionnaire on their dietary habits. Based on those results, they were assigned a score of zero to 14. Participants were then divided into four groups based on their scores. Those who received higher scores followed the Mediterranean diet more closely. The lowest group had scores zero to four, while the highest group had scores nine or more. Participants also took three tests that measured their thinking and memory skills. Scores less than the fifth percentile on two of three of the tests qualified as cognitive impairment.

Results showed that 19 percent of participants had cognitive impairment. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely had a 20 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who didn’t follow the diet. In the group with the lowest Mediterranean diet scores, 34 percent of people had cognitive impairment, compared to only 13 percent in the highest scoring group. Researchers found the relationship between a Mediterranean diet and cognition to be even stronger among those with progressive MS as opposed to relapsing-remitting MS.

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After adjusting for other factors such as socioeconomic status, smoking, body mass index, high blood pressure, and exercise, results remained the same.

“Among health-related factors, the level of dietary alignment with the Mediterranean pattern was by far the strongest predictor of people’s cognitive scores and whether they met the study criteria for cognitive impairment,” said study author Ilana Katz Sand, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, New York, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

Although these findings are promising, Katz explained, longer clinical trials are needed to confirm the results.

“It’s exciting to see that we may be able to help people living with MS maintain better cognition by eating a Mediterranean diet,” said Katz. “Cognitive difficulties are very common in MS, and they often get worse over time, even with treatment with disease-modifying therapies. People living with MS are very interested in ways they can be proactive from a lifestyle perspective to help improve their outcomes.”