Obesity can worsen multiple sclerosis symptoms, researchers say.
Their study involved 140 patients with the relapsing-remitting form of MS, which means patients have periods of attacks (relapses), followed by periods of remission with no or few symptoms. The researchers found that obesity at the time of diagnosis was associated with more severe disability.
The reason: increased inflammation.
The researchers looked at the connection between the autoimmune disease, which can produce pain, stiffness and loss of balance, and excess weight. They checked levels of inflammation in the central nervous system, and levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
They found that obese patients have higher levels of two proteins that promote inflammation — interleukin-6 and leptin, which is produced by fat cells. Excessively heavy patients also had lower levels of interleukin-13, an anti-inflammatory agent.
Higher triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol previously have been linked to higher IL-6 levels, the researchers pointed out.
“This study confirms that obesity is associated with greater symptomatic severity of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis,” said study co-author Dr. Mario Stampanoni Bassi, a neurologist at Neuromed Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Pozzilli, Italy.
“Our results therefore suggest that excessive body weight, or altered lipid profile, are associated to increased central inflammation,” he said in an institute news release. This causes symptoms to worsen.
Body weight and high cholesterol or triglycerides are implicated in various chronic inflammatory conditions, and they also strictly depend on lifestyle, said co-author Dr. Diego Centonze, head of neurology at Neuromed.
“Specific strategies, such as diet or increased physical activity, may therefore pave the way to the possibility of improving the condition of patients with multiple sclerosis,” he added.
The report was published June 5 in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has more about multiple sclerosis.