Episode 87 with Dr. Ellen Mowry on testing restricted calorie diets in MS
Studies in animals and people have linked obesity to inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are testing calorie restriction for its safety and effectiveness in reducing disease severity in people with relapsing-remitting MS.
- A Pilot Study of Intermittent Calorie Restriction in Multiple Sclerosis (ClinicalTrials.gov)
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Host – Dan Keller
Hello, and welcome to Episode Eighty-seven of Multiple Sclerosis Discovery, the podcast of the MS Discovery Forum. I’m Dan Keller.
Animal data, laboratory studies, and even some human evidence suggest that restricting caloric intake may have a salutary effect on diseases that involve inflammation, possibly including MS. I spoke with Ellen Mowry MD of Johns Hopkins University at last fall's ECTRIMS meeting in Barcelona about the rationale for testing caloric restriction in patients with MS and a study that she's carrying out in this regard.
Interviewee – Ellen Mowry
Laura Piccio and Anne Cross at Wash U, among others, looked at calorie restriction in a mouse model of MS, EAE. And they were able to show that reducing calories prior to the disease reduces the disease and/or its severity. And there are a lot of other in vitro data, other mouse models, and even some human data from other patient populations suggesting that intermittent fasting or intermittent calorie restriction not only reduces inflammation, but may improve oxidative stress handling in mitochondrial function.
So we were really interested in whether the ecological observation that the incidence of MS increasing sort of is tied to the same time period in obesity epidemic and that Langer-Gould has showed, among others, that childhood obesity, especially in girls, seems to be a risk factor for MS. So could we be just eating too much, and is that sort of contributing to a burden of MS risk or to a worse prognosis?
So we're doing a trial—it's funded by the National MS Society—of a controlled feeding trial where we're randomizing people to either continuing a sort of traditional western diet at the same level of calories they would need to maintain their current weight; to eating that diet most days, but two days a week having only 25% of their caloric needs for that day; or to a group where that same number of calories or percentage of calories is restricted, but spread out over a week. So we should be able to look at the relative impact of just weight reduction, for example, versus the timing of calorie intake to some extent.
And we're also really curious to see like when we're done with the early phase of that study, which is eight weeks and we'll be providing foods to people, whether or not patients can sustain that diet afterwards for a longer period of time. Because I think there's really great building rationale for evaluating diet as a potential modifier of the disease. But the other side of studying diet and dietary modifications in people with MS is that we don't know how to encourage people and help them participate in meaningful lifestyle changes that are sustainable. So I think we need to look at that carefully as well.
Interviewer – Dan Keller
Is there any gradient of incidence of MS by BMI?
So Annette's study really showed a pretty strong impact of adolescent obesity in girls on MS risk with I would think about a fourfold increase in the odds of developing MS if you were an extremely obese adolescent girl compared to a normal or underweight. And other studies have looked at this as well and shown a very similar set of results. So I would call it sort of a fourth environmental risk factor for MS. I think enough studies have shown a similar association that we can consider that a likely risk factor at this point.
In your study on caloric restriction, are you giving any thought to the composition of the diet? Or are you going to be heavy on carbohydrates, minimize fats, the reverse?
So we're actually aiming for the 50th percentile of the typical American diet for all the macronutrients, fat, carbo, and protein. The reason is we really want to study the concept of caloric restriction in isolation, and in particular, in a pilot study where you don't have a huge number of people, you can't alter too many things, or there's going to be too much noise and you're not going to know what is what. So certainly I think looking at the macronutrient content of the diet as a separate study would be very interesting and informative, but in this study we're actually trying to control, to just sort of keep it at like what typical Americans are eating. So we're really isolating the effects of the timing of calorie and the amount of calorie intake.
What have we missed or is important to add or interesting?
I'm just really encouraged, I think, that the MS community is getting more interested in diet and even exercise and other lifestyle modifications that might be important for people with MS. And Ruth Ann Marrie's work looking at comorbidities in MS and demonstrating that people with MS, who are otherwise healthy, are at lower risk of bad outcomes than people who have comorbid illnesses like diabetes and hypertension and that sort of stuff means that we maybe should be focusing on promoting the overall health of our patients, too, to sort of prevent or minimize the effect of some of these comorbid illnesses. So I think it's really a great step that we're starting to think about investigating diet and exercise in our patients.
Good. I appreciate it. Thanks.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for listening to Episode Eighty-seven of Multiple Sclerosis Discovery. This podcast was produced by the MS Discovery Forum, MSDF, the premier source of independent news and information on MS research. MSDF’s executive editor is Carol Cruzan Morton. Msdiscovery.org is part of the nonprofit Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis. Robert McBurney is our President and CEO, and Hollie Schmidt is Vice President of Scientific Operations.
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For Multiple Sclerosis Discovery, I'm Dan Keller.