For MS patients, diet has potential to improve quality of life, lessen fatigue

Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2023

More studies needed, Carver College of Medicine researchers say


What a patient with multiple sclerosis eats could help reduce fatigue and improve quality of life, but more studies are needed to see how much impact a diet can have, according to a University of Iowa-led research team. The researchers encourage patients to talk with their providers before making significant dietary changes.  

In their study, “Efficacy of Diet on Fatigue and Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis,” published Jan. 24 in the journal Neurology, the Iowa researchers reviewed electronic databases covering 12 clinical trials involving 608 patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who followed one of eight different diets:

  • Low-fat  

  • Mediterranean  

  • Paleolithic  

  • Ketogenic

  • Anti-inflammatory  

  • Fasting  

  • Calorie-restricted  

  • Usual diet (control)

“The study found the diets that promoted consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods were the ones with the best outcomes,” says Tyler Titcomb, PhD, RD, an instructor in the UI Department of Internal Medicine and the senior author of the study. “This is important because it suggests patients with MS can benefit from a referral to a registered dietitian for nutritional counseling.”

Research on diet in specific patient populations faces challenges

Titcomb cautions that while there are signs that some diets can reduce MS-related fatigue and improve physical and mental quality of life, more research needs to be done—and it won’t be easy. Dietary intervention studies focused on specific patient populations, in general, are less likely to receive grant funding, he says, unless the diet has already been well-established as a treatment. Additionally, unlike most “double-blind” trials in which participants don’t know which study group they’re in, it’s not possible to hide which diet a participant may be following.

A plate of vegetable salad on a white background
The study found that consumption of fruits and vegetables helped reduce fatigue and improved quality of life for people living with multiple sclerosis.
Portrait of Tyler Titcomb
Tyler Titcomb, PhD, RD

MS patients should talk to provider before making dietary changes

Nevertheless, Titcomb says this research supports the idea that diet can have a significant impact on outcomes for MS patients. He encourages patients to talk with their providers about including regular meetings with a registered dietitian in their treatment plan, especially before making any significant changes to their diets.  

“When a registered dietitian meets with a patient, they’re going to talk about how to improve diet quality and how to make and sustain healthy choices,” he says.  

Other UI researchers involved in the study are Linda Snetselaar, PhD, RD; Joshua Cheek, BS; Heather Healy, MA, MLS; and John Kamholz, MD, PhD. The team also included Wei Bao, MD, PhD, at the University of Science and Technology of China; Marin Schweizer, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin; and Sara Shuger Fox, PhD, at Central College. 

For more information, listen to Titcomb discuss the study on the podcasts Neurology Minute and Neurology Podcast.