In up to 10% of cases MS may start before the age of 18. This is known as paediatric MS. It is not known exactly what triggers MS, although a combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to a person’s risk of developing MS.
Less well understood is why in some cases MS starts in early life. This study, conducted in the USA, aimed to determine if something in the diet contributes to childhood onset MS.
In adults, certain lifestyle factors, including low vitamin D levels and obesity, have been linked to an increased risk of developing MS. However, there is little evidence to suggest that other specific dietary elements contribute to the risk of MS. (You can view our review of this topic here) and currently, there are no specific dietary recommendations for people with MS or people at risk of developing MS.
To date, very few studies have investigated the link between diet and paediatric MS. This is an important area to study, not only as it will help us to better prevent and treat MS in children, but because the short time frame between exposure to risk factors and onset of MS in children, may help researchers to better understand the causes of MS for everyone.
In this study, Dr Pakpoor and her colleagues studied the diets of 768 children aged between 3 and 22 years, with and without MS in the USA to determine if any particular foods were associated with developing MS. They were unable to identify any link with any dietary factors, other than some evidence that low iron levels may increase a child’s risk of developing MS. This result requires replication and validation in further studies.
To perform this study, the researchers asked the children (or their parents) 41 questions that evaluated the frequency and portion size of a range of food types and beverages consumed during the preceding week. When they compared the total calorie, fat, carbohydrate, protein, vegetable, fruit, fibre and dairy intake over a week, there was no difference in the diets of children that did and did not have MS.
Further studies are required to confirm these findings and it should be noted that the researchers only considered what was eaten over one week as an example of their general diet, and this relied on accurate recollection of what the families had eaten. The authours also note that the questionnaire did not measure specific micro and macronutrients in foods and assumes that the diet of the child had not changed since receiving the diagnosis of MS.
The possible link with dietary iron shown in this study is of some interest as the authours point out that low and high levels of iron may affect normal functioning of the immune system and the cells of the brain and spinal cord.
Whilst more research is needed, these results are an important step in our understanding of how and why MS occurs, in both children and adults.
Article courtesy of MS Research Australia www.msra.org.au