A new study finds that, compared with healthy individuals, women with multiple sclerosis may have lower intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, including food folate, vitamin E and magnesium.

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Women with MS were found to have lower levels of food folate, magnesium and anti-inflammatory nutrients.

The researchers, including Dr. Sandra D. Cassard of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, say their findings may have important health implications for women, as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients may lower the risk of neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS) or reduce progression among those who have such conditions.

The team is due to present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April.

MS is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS). It occurs when the immune system triggers inflammation in the CNS. This damages or destroys myelin – a fatty substance that protects nerve fibers, allowing electric impulses to be sent between the brain and other parts of the body.

MS is estimated to affect more than 400,000 people in the US. Each week sees 200 new cases of the disease diagnosed.

Onset of MS is most common between the ages of 20 and 50, although it can affect people of any age. The disease affects around two to three times as many women as men.

According to Dr. Cassard and colleagues, the increase in MS prevalence in recent years has led to the theory that inflammation-related dietary or nutritional changes may play a role in the development of the condition. The team wanted to investigate this theory further.

For their study, Dr. Cassard and colleagues enrolled 57 women aged 18-60 with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or less who were part of a vitamin D supplementation study. Of these women, 27 had MS and 30 were healthy controls.

Prior to undergoing vitamin D supplementation, all participants were required to complete a food frequency questionnaire, which gathered information on their diet and nutrition intake over the past 12 months.

The researchers found that on average, the women with MS had lower levels of five anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients – food folate, vitamin E, magnesium, lutein-zeaxanthin and quercetin – compared with the healthy controls.

In detail, the women with MS had an average daily intake of 244 mcg of food folate, compared with an average intake of 321 mcg of dietary folate for the healthy controls. The daily recommended daily intake of dietary folate for adults is 400 mcg, so both groups failed to meet recommendations.

The average daily magnesium intake for women with MS was 254 mg, while the healthy controls had an average daily magnesium intake of 321 mg – just meeting the recommended daily intake of 320 mg.

Compared with the healthy controls, the women with MS also had a lower percentage of their calories from fat.

The researchers say their findings show a clear difference in intake of nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties between patients with MS and healthy individuals.

Medical News Today asked Dr. Cassard for a potential explanation for these findings. She told us this is not known but is worthy of further investigation; at present, it is unclear as to whether lower nutrient intake is a cause of MS or a result of it.

Still, Dr. Cassard adds:

Since MS is a chronic inflammatory disorder, having enough nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties may help prevent the disease or reduce the risk of attacks for those who already have MS.

Antioxidants are also critical to good health and help reduce the effects of other types of damage that can occur on a cellular level and contribute to neurologic diseases like MS.”

But while such nutrients may be important, Dr. Cassard told MNT that women with MS should not increase their intake of them just yet. “Results are preliminary and further research is needed related to diet modifications in MS,” she added.

Last month, MNT reported on a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, in which researchers suggested a common gut bacterium called Helicobacter pylori could protect women against MS.