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06 March 2015

HOLISM paper shows intake of healthy fat, fruit and vegetables predict better quality of life and less disability in people with MS

The latest HOLISM paper just published in the international journal Nutritional Neuroscience demonstrates the strong associations of healthy diet with better health for a large international sample of people with MS.

Healthy fat intake

Despite the work of Professor Roy Swank and many others showing better outcomes for PwMS consuming very healthy diets low in saturated fat, many doctors deny any link between diet and disease course in MS.

The OMS group has been researching the associations of a variety of lifestyle factors with MS disease progression and quality of life, including detailed analysis of dietary factors.

The latest publication from this HOLISM study lends strong support to the findings of Swank and others. In analysing around 2,500 PwMS from 57 countries around the world, the HOLISM researchers used a detailed dietary habits questionnaire developed in Australia.

Dietary questionnaire

The questionnaire scored dietary habits from 20-100 points, with higher scores reflecting healthier habits. Detailed data were provided about fat intake, fruit and vegetable intake, and consumption of other foods.

Previously published research from this study showed that more frequent fish consumption and regular flaxseed oil intake predicted better quality of life and fewer relapses. This current dietary research added significantly to these findings.

The data indicated that PwMS with the healthiest fat consumption had very much better quality of life (QOL) and were significantly less disabled.

The statistics

Those in the healthiest fat consumption group had 33% fewer relapses over the previous 12 months than those in the worst fat consumption group (predominantly saturated fats).

Additionally, higher intake of fruit and vegetables also predicted these outcomes, with those in the healthiest fruit and vegetable consumption group having 32% fewer relapses than those in the least fruit and vegetable intake group.

Those not eating meat had 19% fewer relapses over the previous 12 months than those eating meat, and those avoiding dairy had 17% fewer relapses than those eating dairy.

See the graph below for these results. Overall, a healthier diet as shown by a higher score on the dietary questionnaire was associated with better QOL and less disability; each 10% increase in the diet score towards a healthier diet predicted a six point increase in physical QOL and five point increase in mental health QOL. 

A 12% reduction in relapses over the previous 12 months, and 30% lower chance of being significantly disabled. The findings strongly support Swank’s work; moderate improvement in the sort of fats that were eaten did not predict better outcomes, only the most rigorous attention to fat intake was associated with better health outcomes, just as Swank found.

Strong findings

These findings are so strong statistically and clinically that they demand further research in this long neglected area. Further, given the strength of these findings, how congruent they are with Swank’s research, and that such healthy changes to diet can only result in generally better health, there is no reason that PwMS should not take up the dietary recommendations of the OMS Recovery Program.


► Hadgkiss EJ, Jelinek GA, Weiland TJ, Pereira NG, Marck CH, van der Meer DM. The association of diet with quality of life, disability and relapse rate in an international sample of people with multiple sclerosis. Nutritional Neuroscience 2014; in press View pdf