Another reason to eat fish: Protection against MS

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published April 19, 2018

Key Takeaways

Eating fish one to three times per month and taking daily fish oil supplements may reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to study results to be presented at the 2018 Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting.

“Consuming fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have a variety of health benefits,” said study author Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, research scientist, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, CA, “so we wanted to see if this simple lifestyle modification, regularly eating fish and taking fish oil supplements, could reduce the risk of MS.”

In the first part of this study, Dr. Langer-Gould and fellow researchers assessed the diets of 1,153 participants (mean age: 36 years) from the MS Sunshine Study, which was a multi-ethnic, matched, case-control study of MS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)—a precursor of MS—in patients enrolled in Kaiser Permanent Southern California.

A diet high in fish intake was defined as eating one serving of fish per week or eating fish one to three times per month, in addition to taking daily fish oil supplements. Researchers defined low fish intake as eating less than one serving of fish a month and taking no fish oil supplements. Examples of the fish consumed included shrimp, salmon, and tuna.

In total, 180 participants with MS adhered to diets high in fish intake, compared with 251 healthy controls.

The researchers found that high fish intake was associated with a 45% reduced risk of MS/CIS (adjusted OR: 0.55; 95% CI: 0.40-0.75; P=0.0002) compared with low fish intake.

Dr. Langer-Gould and colleagues also studied 13 single nucleotide polymorphisms (13 tag SNPs) in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene cluster, which is known to modulate fatty acid levels.

Two of the variations were linked to a lower risk of MS—even in those with high fish intake. Specifically, two tag SNPs in FADS2—rs174611 and rs174618—were independently associated with a lowered risk of MS, even after accounting for high fish intake (adjusted OR: 0.66, 0.64; P=0.007 and 0.016, respectively).

Thus, it is possible that some people have a genetic advantage when it comes to fatty acid metabolism.

“These analyses support a protective role of fish consumption and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) biosynthesis on MS risk. These findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may play an important role in reducing MS risk. Future studies to replicate our findings and determine whether this is mediated by the anti-inflammatory, metabolic and/or neurological functions of PUFAs are needed,” concluded Dr. Langer-Gould and fellow researchers. “

This study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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