Health Outcomes and Lifestyle In a Sample of people with Multiple sclerosis (HOLISM) is a large observational study that commenced in 2011. An international sample of people with MS were recruited online to contribute self-reported lifestyle, medication and MS disease outcome data.
The primary aim of HOLISM is to determine the association between lifestyle factors and MS disease outcomes as the epidemiological (population-based) foundation of a secondary and tertiary preventive strategy for managing MS, that is preventing MS progression once diagnosed.
The HOLISM study is one of the largest lifestyle databases in the world, with 2,500 participants at baseline, and comprising a comprehensive suite of modifiable lifestyle risk factors and health outcomes. The detailed methodology of HOLISM at baseline and follow-up have been published.
The study has ethics approval from The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia. HOLISM is independently funded through charitable trusts and philanthropic donations.
Diet and omega 3 supplementation
- Meat and dairy consumption was associated with lower quality of life and higher relapse rate. Compared to HOLISM participants who did not eat meat, those who did had 17% lower physical quality of life scores and 23% higher 12 month relapse rate. Compared to HOLISM participants who did not consume dairy, whose who did had 16% lower physical quality of life scores and a 21% higher 12 month relapse rate.
- Omega 3 intake and fish consumption was strongly associated with MS disease activity, relapse rate, disability and quality of life. Consuming omega 3 in the form of flaxseed oil supplements was associated with over 60% reduced relapse rate. Consuming fish 3 or more times a week was associated with a 12 percent increase in health related quality of life scores.
- Smoking had significant negative associations with MS disability and quality of life. Compared to HOLISM participants who never smoked, current and ex-smokers were 30% more likely to have moderate disability than low disability. Compared to non-smoking participants, those who smoked 1-15 cigarettes/day had 14% lower overall quality of life scores, and those who smoke 16 or more cigarettes/day have 20% lower scores.
- Moderate alcohol intake was associated with better quality of life. Compared to HOLISM participants who consumed low or no alcohol, in moderate alcohol consumers, physical and mental quality of life was 14% and 11% better respectively.
- Exercise was associated with less disability. HOLISM participants who exercised at least 30 minutes/day have 65% lower odds of moderate disability, and 93% lower odds of severe disability, than those who exercised less than 30 minutes/day.
- Exercise was associated with better quality of life. Compared to minimally active HOLISM participants, those who were highly active had 27% better physical quality of life, as well as 39% better reported energy levels and 14% better mental quality of life.
- Exercise was also also associated with lower risk of depression. 28% of HOLISM participants with low activity level had depression, compared to 15% in those who were moderately active, and 11% who were highly active.
- Frequent meditation had benefits to depression risk and quality of life. Compared to HOLISM participants who never meditated, those who meditated at least once a week had half the odds of screening positive for depression, and had 7% higher overall quality of life scores.
- Latitude, sunlight, and vitamin D were associated with disability and quality of life. For every 10 degrees further from the equator HOLISM participants lived, they were 20% more likely to have moderate disability and 30% more likely to have major disability than little disability. In the same study, we reported higher intake of vitamin D supplementation was associated with incrementally better quality of life.
Engagement with OMS resources
- HOLISM participants who engaged with the OMS Program by attending a retreat, reading the OMS book, and visiting the OMS website had 33% and 23% better physical and mental quality of life, one third the risk of fatigue, and one-tenth the risk of depression.
- HOLISM participants who were more engaged with OMS information were more likely to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as physical activity, omega-3 supplementation and dairy non-consumption.
- OMS Recovery Program lifestyle modifications are associated with the lowest risk of depression and lowest risk of fatigue.
- Smoking and obesity were associated with greater odds of substantial pain, while exercise and healthy diet were associated with lower odds of substantial pain.
- Healthy lifestyles predicted having fewer illnesses. The more illnesses a person with MS has, the worse their quality of life, disability and likelihood of relapses.
Summary of findings
The findings of the HOLISM study, as outlined above, strongly support the pillars of the OMS Recovery Program. Given the lack of evidence for any other MS treatment programs that come close to achieving these outcomes, we have demonstrated that there is great benefit to Quality of Life and health outcomes to following the OMS lifestyle guidelines, and in particular with engaging with the OMS recovery program. Be well!
Future research directions
Ongoing research includes longitudinal analyses of data from baseline, 2.5, 5, and 7.5-year follow-up, to assess long-term effects and causal relationships of lifestyle on health outcomes including fatigue, depression, and quality of life.
Note: To remain completely unbiased and independent, OMS is an independent website that receives no funding from the pharmaceutical industry, device manufacturers, or other companies, and is not affiliated with any third party groups or organisations.
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13. Lin X, Yu M, Jelinek GA, Simpson-Yap S, Neate S, Nag N. Greater engagement with health information is associated with adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyle behaviours in people with MS. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020 Jan;17(16):5935. PDF
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15. Weiland TJ, Hadgkiss EJ, Pereira N, Marck CH, van der Meer DM, Taylor KL, Jelinek GA. Clinically significant fatigue: Prevalence and associated factors in an international sample of adults with multiple sclerosis. PLOS ONE 2015 Feb 18;10(2):e0115541. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115541 PDF
17. Prevalence of Comorbidities, Overweight and Obesity in an International Sample of People with Multiple Sclerosis and Associations with Modifiable Lifestyle Factors PDF