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17 October 2015

Plant-based fatty acids may lower risk of MS

Plant-based fatty acids are worthy of ongoing study, reinforcing the OMS recommendation to take flaxseed oil rather than fish oil. George Jelinek explains the research.

Flaxseed oil & MS

A recent study reported at ECTRIMS (European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS) in Barcelona reports that higher intake of plant-based essential fatty acids, such as alpha linolenic acid in flaxseed oil, may reduce the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis.

Examining data from the Nurses Health Study on nearly 180,000 nurses in the US, investigators found that individuals who consumed the most foods containing plant-based polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) had one-third lower MS risk than those individuals consuming the least amount.

However, they found no significant association between consuming a diet high in fatty acids from fish and MS risk. Lead researcher Kjetil Bjørnevik, MD (PhD student), research fellow, University of Bergen, Norway, said: “For the last half a century, there has been a lot of interest in PUFAs (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids), but it has been mainly focused on fish-derived PUFAs — what we get from consuming fish.

Flaxseed oil vs fish oil

Here in our study, we don’t actually see an association between those types of PUFAs and MS risk.” Medical professionals can view the study report at Medscape after signing up at this link.

These findings gave support to the unexpected finding from an earlier publication ​from the OMS Research Team in 2013. In their paper from the HOLISM study Association of fish consumption and omega 3 supplementation with quality of life, disability and disease activity in an international cohort of people with multiple sclerosisthey showed that people with MS consuming flaxseed oil had over 60% lower relapse rate than those not consuming it, but fish oil did not have any significant association. 

It concluded: Those consuming fish more frequently and those taking omega 3 supplements had significantly better quality of life, in all domains, and less disability. For fish consumption, there was a clear dose–response relationship for these associations.

There were also trends towards lower relapse rates and reduced disease activity; flaxseed oil supplementation was associated with over 60% lower relapse rate over the previous 12 months.

Further dietary studies and randomised controlled trials of omega 3 supplementation for people with MS are required, preferably using flaxseed oil.

While the ECTRIMS report was about risk of developing MS, and the HOLISM report focused on the disease-modifying effect of flaxseed oil intake after developing MS, the studies in combination strongly suggest that the plant-based omega-3s are likely to be the preferred source of omega 3 supplementation for people with MS or those at risk of developing MS, such as their close relatives.

Clearly flaxseed oil in particular, the most potent source of plant-based omega 3s, is worthy of ongoing study, and the studies to date reinforce the OMS recommendation to take flaxseed oil rather than fish oil.