Alcohol, Smoking and Multiple Sclerosis

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A study to be published in the April issue of the European Journal of Neurology is reporting on how lifestyle affects the progression of multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a progressive neuromuscular disease that leads to muscle weakness, paralysis and eventually death. It presents in two broad forms, a progressive onset and a relapsing onset. (Study abstract here.)

In the progressive form of the disease, patients gradually worsen in an almost continuous manner – like sliding down a hill. In the relapsing onset type, patients progress in a stepwise fashion, with partial recovery between attacks. Both tend to worsen over time, and the study looked at both populations to see how long it took to reach a severe level of disability. Multiple sclerosis is graded on a scale from one to ten (ten being the worst) and the researchers measured how long it took for patients of either type to reach stage six. At level six, patients require an aid to walk. This generally takes about two decades to reach from first diagnosis (although this can vary a great deal).

In the progressive group, lifestyle choices about alcohol, eating fish, drinking coffee and smoking didn’t seem to make much difference. They reached stage six at about the same time whether they consumed these items or not. However, in the other group (relapsing onset), coffee, fish and alcohol did make a difference – extending the time to reach stage six by five to seven years. Smoking, on the other hand, lessened the time it took for symptoms to worsen.

Researchers have not explained the mechanism behind these results and more details will need to be unearthed about just what is happening. However, if it holds up, expect relapsing onset MS patients to go on a regimen of daily coffee, at least one meals of fish a month and one or more alcoholic drinks a week as well.

A breakdown of the numbers and further details can be found here.

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