In a new study, researchers discovered that eating fish at least once a week — or eating fish one to three times per month plus daily fish oil supplements — may be associated with a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The findings, recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting, suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, as well as how they are processed in the body, may be associated with the lower risk for developing MS.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate with other parts of the body. The patient’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty white substance that insulates and protects the nerves. This interferes with the signals being sent between the brain and the rest of the body.
Symptoms of MS may include fatigue, numbness, tingling, or difficulty walking. The first episode of MS symptoms, lasting at least 24 hours, is known as clinically isolated syndrome. Currently, there is no cure for MS.
“Consuming fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have a variety of health benefits, so we wanted to see if this simple lifestyle modification, regularly eating fish and taking fish oil supplements, could reduce the risk of MS,” said study author Annette Langer-Gould, M.D., Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena, California, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, researchers analyzed the diets of 1,153 people with an average age of 36 from a variety of backgrounds, about half of whom had been diagnosed with MS or clinically isolated syndrome.
Participants were asked to report how much fish they regularly consumed. High fish intake was defined as either eating one serving of fish per week or eating one to three servings per month in addition to taking daily fish oil supplements. Low intake was defined as less than one serving of fish per month and no fish oil supplements. Examples of fish consumed by study participants include shrimp, salmon, and tuna.
The findings show that high fish intake was tied to a 45 percent reduced risk of MS or clinically isolated syndrome when compared with those who ate fish less than once a month and did not take fish oil supplements. A total of 180 of those with MS had high fish intake compared to 251 of the healthy controls.
The researchers also studied 13 genetic variations in a human gene cluster that regulates fatty acid levels. They found that two of the 13 genetic variations they had examined were associated with a lower risk of MS, even after accounting for the higher fish intake. This may suggest that some people have a genetic advantage to help them regulate fatty acid levels.
While the study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, and how they are processed by the body, may play an important role in reducing MS risk, Langer-Gould notes that the findings simply show an association and not cause and effect. More studies are needed to confirm the findings and to investigate how omega-3 fatty acids may affect inflammation, metabolism, and nerve function.
Fish such as salmon, sardines, lake trout, and albacore tuna are generally recommended as good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Source: American Academy of Neurology