Sugary Drinks Linked to Higher Disability in MS

Megan Brooks

March 07, 2019

Preliminary research suggests a possible association between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and higher disability in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

In a cross-sectional study, MS patients who reported drinking two cans of SSBs per day were far more likely to have severe disability than those who seldom consumed these drinks.

"MS patients often want to know how diet and specific foods can affect the progression of their disease," study author Elisa Meier-Gerdingh, MD, of St. Josef Hospital in Bochum, Germany, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a news release.

"While we did not find a link with overall diet, interestingly, we did find a link with those who drank sodas, flavored juices, and sweetened teas and coffees," she said.

The study will be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2019 Annual Meeting.

The study team analyzed cross-sectional data from 135 people with MS (73% women; mean age, 44 years) who underwent dietary assessments and a neurologic examination.

For each participant, the researchers calculated a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score ranging from 8 (poorest quality) to 40 (highest quality). They assessed the association between overall DASH scores and DASH component scores and disability status (Expanded Disability Status Scale [EDSS]). Thirty of the participants had severe disability (EDSS ≥6).

Overall DASH scores were not associated with disability status. However, with respect to individual DASH-score components, those in the highest quartile of SSB intake (average intake of 290 calories of SSBs per day) were five times more likely to have severe disability than those who seldom drank SSBs (odds ratio [OR], 5.01; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03 – 24.37; P for trend = .01). Other DASH diet components were not associated with disability status.

"As far as we know, this is the first time a link between SSB and the progression of MS has been described," Meier-Gerdingh told Medscape Medical News.

She cautioned that the number of participants was "rather small, and we used a cross-sectional design, so it is difficult to conclude causal links. It is not yet possible to distinguish whether high consumption of SSBs leads to worse outcomes in MS or whether a more severe disease impedes patients to follow a healthy diet.

"A good follow-up study would include a larger number of participants and a longitudinal study design, ideally with multiple time points of follow-up. In this way we might be able to generate more reliable data and to verify whether SSBs are a cause of progression in MS," she said.

Reached for comment, Asaff Harel, MD, neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, noted that diet has been implicated in MS for "many decades, but few scientific studies have been done to conclusively elucidate a possible connection.

"This study failed to show an association between MS severity and overall diet quality, but intake of sugary beverages was associated with worse disability. While an association is interesting at face value, larger prospective studies are necessary to prove any causation. Though sugary beverages are not of nutritional benefit to anyone, people with MS might have an additional reason to limit their intake," said Harel.

The study received no funding. Meier-Gerdingh and Harel have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2019 Annual Meeting.

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