Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheaths protecting nerve fibers, leading to impaired nerve function. Although it still does not have a cure, the right treatment and the reduction of risk factors can help in slowing the progression.
Scientists continue to research medications, treatment options, and lifestyle changes that can help to ease its symptoms and even potentially become a cure. Recent data indicates that a healthy diet rich in leafy greens can improve cognitive functions in patients with Multiple Sclerosis. Here, we take a closer look at the data.
Understanding Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune demyelinating disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues — in this case, the myelin or protective covering around nerve fibers. This leaves scarred tissues or lesions in multiple areas, disrupting impulses throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow or even stop, causing neurological problems.
Multiple Sclerosis treatment involves a combination of Stem Cell Therapy, Speech Therapy, Physiotherapy, and Occupational Therapy.
How eating leafy greens can benefit patients with Multiple Sclerosis
A recent study conducted by Rush University focused on 960 adults with Multiple Sclerosis, with an average age of 81 and no dementia. The study tracked their diet and their symptom progress over five years while controlling for risk factors like smoking or drinking alcohol. It was observed at the end of the five years that patients who regularly ate leafy greens experienced a mental advantage worth 11 years in age over patients that didn’t do so.
The study is particularly relevant because cognitive disability affects over 50% of Multiple Sclerosis patients and can cause significant problems with information processing, planning, memory, executive function, and attention span. It can also increase fatigue and depression.
In particular, the study found the best cognitive results in patients who ate leafy green vegetables and other foods rich in Vitamin E, Vitamin K1, folic acid, nitrate, and kaempferol.
- Vitamin E: This is a group of antioxidants that combat oxidative stress, which is proven to aggravate Multiple Sclerosis. Foods rich in it include avocado, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ oil, rainbow trout, and Atlantic salmon.
- Vitamin K1: Brussels sprouts, leafy vegetables, scallions, cabbage, fermented dairy, prunes, and broccoli are rich in Vitamin K1.
- Folic acid: Spinach, beans, peas, asparagus, citrus fruits, lentils, and cereals are sources of folic acid.
- Kaempferol: Dill weed, capers, kale, cress, turnip greens, and broccoli all contain kaempferol.
- Nitrates: Lettuce, beets, carrots, green beans, parsley, cabbage, radishes, and collard greens are rich in nitrates
Cognitive function and gut health
Scientists suggest that there could be a connection with the gut, specifically, the roughage that comes with eating leafy greens and other vegetables. The consumption of these food items enables healthy microbes to flourish in the gut. This reduces inflammation and thus promotes overall health, including better cognitive function. Reduced inflammation also helps with depression and anxiety (commonly experienced by patients with Multiple Sclerosis) and helps reduce levels of fatigue.
Several researchers are looking into gut behavior in patients with Multiple Sclerosis. A recent study conducted by the University of California San Francisco showed that patients with Multiple Sclerosis have different gut bacteria from people who do not have the condition. And some of these gut bacteria can trigger inflammation. Certain experiments have also shown that switching to a plant-based or plant-rich diet for even 24 hours can trigger significant changes in the gut ecosystem and lead to microbial shifts that promote gut health.
Is the research conclusive?
While the study is certainly interesting, it requires more data to be substantiated. It is also worth noting that most of the study participants were old, which may have somewhat skewed the results. To date, no one diet can treat Multiple Sclerosis, and it is essential to consult one’s doctor before embarking on any new nutrition plan.
However, even if eating leafy greens does not directly slow the progression of the disease, it will undoubtedly have many benefits in terms of better immunity, strength, and cardiovascular health. Patients, therefore, can certainly switch to a diet rich in leafy greens in addition to their regular Multiple Sclerosis treatment to enjoy improved health, both physical and mental.