#ResearchSpeak: are polyunsaturated fatty acids intake a preventable risk factor for MS?

PUFAs supplements may reduce your risk of getting MS. #RsearchSpeak #MSBlog

The study below shows that high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) reduces your risk of getting MS. This observation is independent of other identifiable risk factors. Is this association or causation; chicken or egg? The only way to do this is by doing a randomised controlled population study to see if PUFA supplementation reduces the risk of getting MS, compared to a suitable control substance (placebo or another fatty acid). Another strategy would be to confirm this finding in another cohort of people, which may be difficult, or to try and test the hypothesis using a genomic approach, i.e. Mendelian randomisation. The problem with the latter is that we will need to know a lot about the biology of PUFAs and how subtle genetic variants affect the metabolism and levels of PUFAs. 

What it does suggest that if you are ‘at risk’ of getting MS, i.e. are a first, second or even a third degree relative of someone with MS it may be a good idea to look at your diet to make sure you are getting enough PUFAs. If not you can easily supplement your diet. In addition to this you need to make sure you are vitamin D replete, you don’t smoke and you keep your weight down. 

As with all dietary interventions PUFAs have an up and a down side. Omega-3 PUFAs can increase your risk of bleeding and may interact with other medications.

Bjørnevik et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2017 Jan 1:1352458517691150.

BACKGROUND: Results from previous studies on polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake and multiple sclerosis (MS) risk are conflicting.

OBJECTIVE: To prospectively investigate the association between dietary intake of PUFA and MS risk.

METHODS: We followed 80,920 women from Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2004) and 94,511 women from Nurses’ Health Study II (1991-2009) who reported on diet using a validated food frequency questionnaire every 4 years and identified 479 incident MS cases during follow-up. We used Cox regression to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs), for the effect of PUFA intake on MS risk adjusting for age, latitude of residence at age 15, ancestry, cigarette smoking, supplemental vitamin D intake, body mass index, and total energy intake.

RESULTS: Higher intake of total PUFA at baseline was associated with a lower risk of MS (HR top vs bottom quintile: 0.67, 95% CI: 0.49-0.90, p trend = 0.01). Among the specific types of PUFA, only α-linolenic acid (ALA) was inversely associated with MS risk (HR top vs bottom quintile: 0.61, 95% CI: 0.45-0.83, p trend = 0.001). The long-chain fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were not associated with MS risk.

CONCLUSION: Low dietary PUFA intake may be another modifiable risk factor for MS.

3 thoughts on “#ResearchSpeak: are polyunsaturated fatty acids intake a preventable risk factor for MS?”

  1. Question Time. last night on BBC One discussed vitamin D supplementation and MS and rickets. Watch it, Professor G.

  2. I found the way this article was summarised very difficult to follow. As a PWMS interested in the potential for diet to modify progression is this saying that among the PUFAs, only ALA (e.g. linseed oil) is protective and that EPA and DHA (fish oil) is neutral in terms of MS risk?

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