Low-fat diets may reduce fatigue among multiple sclerosis patients, experts flag

Reducing calorie intake may alleviate fatigue in people battling multiple sclerosis (MS), recent research suggests. The findings add additional weight to previous studies, highlighting the importance of reducing fat intake to improve fatigue among people with the condition.

“Fatigue is very disabling for these patients,” says senior author Vijayshree Yadav, professor of neurology at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine and director of the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center. “There is no FDA-approved drug for fatigue, but we know that fatigue greatly affects their quality of life.”

The paper published last week in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal showed that patients whose daily caloric intake was reduced by 19% reported lowered fatigue levels. The study’s authors describe this as a “notable reduction” when compared with the control group and conclude it demonstrates the capacity of low-fat diets to reduce fatigue among MS patients successfully.

Nutrition counseling and diet 
The research sets out to determine if reducing caloric and fat intake could be a potential treatment for the MS symptom, described by the authors as debilitating and often under-appreciated.

It was conducted as a 16-week randomized trial, which included 39 participants with MS and fatigue. Among the participants, 20 were allocated a low-fat diet, and 19 were in the control group.  The trial determined reduced fatigue levels among the MS patients who lowered their fat intake. 

All subjects’ diets were monitored throughout the first two weeks of the trial through 24-hour diet recalls. The active group then received two weeks of nutrition counseling followed by a 12-week low-fat diet.

The group’s adherence to the diet was monitored using a routine blood sampling. “You cannot really fudge the biomarkers,” Yadav comments.

Additionally, the group was examined through one set of three 24-hour diet recalls at baseline and week 16, which showed clear signs of reduced caloric intake and adherence to the regimen.

The participants further answered a food frequency questionnaire, which assessed their ability to pay attention, concentrate and perform routine physical activities. They were also administered a Modified Fatigue Impact Scale every four weeks.

In contrast, while the control group received nutritional training from dieticians during the trial, they continued consuming their pre-study diet.

Reduced fatigue
The study’s findings reinforce those from a similar study conducted in 2016, which introduced participants to a purely plant-based diet. This is in contrast to the most recently conducted research, which was modified to include low-fat meat products.

“The results reinforce what we had seen before,” Yadav says. “A low-fat diet can truly make a difference in a patient’s fatigue level, even without going so far as to make it a vegan diet.”

Another study published at the beginning of the year presented data that, while high-fat diets could result in some health benefits when consumed over a short period of time, this is not the case in the long term, as this diet has been shown to lead to increased caloric consumption and weight gain.

An earlier study by the US National Institutes of Health argued that a plant-based low-fat diet could result in a more significant weight loss than a low-carbohydrate diet, such as the trendy ketogenic and Atkins diets.

Contrasting findings were reported among diabetes patients following a study conducted at the University of Southern Denmark, which found that a low-carb diet was more effective at reducing several symptoms of diabetes than a low-fat diet.

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