As the end of the year approaches and some of us start thinking about shedding a few of those holiday-accumulated pounds, a new research paper links obesity with faster progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Previous research has already shown that having a higher body mass index (BMI) in childhood is associated with a higher risk of developing MS.
The new study, which included 1,066 adults (ages 25 to 41) newly diagnosed with MS, found that obesity at the time of MS onset is associated with higher accumulation of disability over the six-year observation period.
Coupling this finding with that of earlier research that found an association between overweight or obesity and decreased brain volume and worsened disability in MS, we are learning more about the direct impact obesity has on the advancement of MS symptoms.
Risk of Moderate Disability Much Higher
Although obesity at disease onset was not significantly associated with a higher annual relapse rate, increased number of contrast-enhancing MRI lesions, or higher T2 lesion burden as seen on MRI over six years of follow-up, obese patients did progress to Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) level 3 (some functional disability but still fully ambulatory) far faster than non-obese patients.
This means that even though the observable signs of disease activity may not vary much between an obese person with MS and others, the resulting progression of disability is accelerated in cases of higher BMI.
Researchers in this study used the standard definition of obesity as having a BMI equal to or higher than 30.
Interestingly, being overweight (having a BMI between 25 and 29.9) at disease onset was not significantly associated with higher disability at baseline or at follow-up intervals of two, four, and six years.
Losing Weight Possibly Helpful but Not Easy
While the onset of MS — with or without obesity — can’t be undone, losing excess body fat after diagnosis is possible and could have the benefit of slowing disability accumulation. The researchers suggest that dedicated management of obesity should be explored for its potential merit in improving long-term clinical outcomes of patients diagnosed with MS.
Losing significant weight can be difficult for people with MS, and despite evidence like this, some research shows that most people with MS do not attempt to drop excess weight to better their potential outcomes.
Change is always difficult when it comes to weight, particularly with the added difficulties of restricted mobility, fatigue, and other MS symptoms.
To help those people with MS who would like to try to lose some weight, a number of MS organizations collaborated on a recorded webinar that outlines specific strategies to manage your weight with nutrition and exercise when MS is part of the health picture.
Less Disability a Powerful Motivator
For some people, being able to look in the mirror and not see love handles is motivation enough to resolve to exercise more, eat better, or lose a bit of weight as the calendar flips from December to January.
People with MS have a powerful additional motivator: the potential to slow down disease progression and maintain more functional ability.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.