Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is the most common type of MS in both adults and children.
Since children are two to three times more likely to experience MS relapses compared with adults, it’s important to follow your child’s treatment plan to help reduce these occurrences.
Their treatment plan may also include diet and nutrition strategies to help your child maintain a moderate weight.
While body weight is certainly not the only factor in a MS diagnosis, recent research is finding that children who have overweight or obesity may be more likely to develop MS compared with children who don’t have these conditions.
There’s also a relationship between a higher body weight and greater chances of more severe MS symptoms.
If your doctor has recommended that your child lose weight, doing so may possibly improve their overall health, mental well-being, and MS disease course. Read on to learn the most important factors to consider.
It’s estimated that 3 to 5 percent of people with MS develop this condition before they’re 16 years old.
While there’s no single direct cause of MS,
This is especially the case if your child has a genetic susceptibility (for example, a family member with MS).
Children with MS typically take the same disease-modifying therapies as adults with MS. First-line therapies include interferon beta 1a and glatiramer acetate. The purpose of these prescription drugs is to reduce the number of relapses.
If first-line MS medications aren’t working well, newer or stronger medications may be needed.
It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of MS cases in children don’t respond well to first-line therapies. Researchers are looking at possible reasons why.
Helping your child learn to make healthy dietary choices now will not only help them maintain a moderate weight, but those habits can also stay with them into adulthood.
It’s also important to understand how certain foods may affect MS relapses and progression.
More vegetables, less fat
One 2017 study involving 219 pediatric patients with either RRMS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) looked at the role of a diet high in fat versus a diet high in vegetables.
Researchers found that a 10 percent dietary fat increase led to a 56 percent higher chance of relapse, while every 1-cup serving of vegetables decreased the odds by 50 percent.
In addition to increasing your child’s vegetable consumption, it’s important to limit saturated fats in your child’s diet. According to that 2017 study, saturated fat intake is linked to an increased risk of MS relapses in children.
Additionally, foods high in saturated fat tend to have more calories. These include:
- ice cream
- pastries, cookies, and cake
- sausage and bacon
- cured meats
- fatty cuts of meat
Cut back on sugar
Sugar is a nonnutritive addition to your child’s diet. It might negatively affect MS, too.
Preliminary research suggests a higher likelihood of severe symptoms in people who consume an average of 290 calories worth of soda or other sugar-containing beverages per day.
While study participants were adults, it’s still worth considering the negative effects of sugar on children with MS, and limiting it whenever possible.
Aside from eating a balanced diet, research supports the following nutrients and their role in MS.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that may potentially decrease inflammation and reduce relapses in adults with MS. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, such as:
While more research is needed on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in children with MS, it may be worth talking with your child’s pediatrician about giving them fish oil supplements, especially if they don’t get a lot of fish in their diet.
A 2017 study in children with MS found that of 312 participants with MS, 77.2 percent were deficient in iron.
However, researchers caution that more studies are needed to determine whether insufficient iron intake is linked to severe MS symptoms in children.
You may consider asking your pediatrician about your child’s iron intake and needs. Examples of healthy iron-rich foods include:
- dark leafy greens
Low levels of this anti-inflammatory nutrient have been linked to a higher risk of developing MS in adults.
Vitamin D is also known to have positive effects on overall immune system function, although more research is needed to determine whether it may alter the course of your child’s MS.
Food sources that are rich in vitamin D include:
- oily fish
- fortified milk
- egg yolks
Exercise is another way to manage weight. Not only does regular physical activity burn calories and increase metabolism, but it also helps your child build muscles and healthy bones.
Research has found that children with MS who exercise regularly have fewer lesions, less fatigue, and better mental health, overall.
But due to the nature of MS, some children with the condition don’t get enough physical activity. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about getting started with an exercise program that’s appropriate for your child.
They may recommend a combination of aerobic exercise, such as swimming and walking, as well as stretching or children’s yoga.
Research continues to evolve in terms of causes and treatment factors that affect children with MS. One of these aspects concerns body weight.
Children who have overweight or obesity may have a higher chance of developing MS. Children with MS who have higher body weight may also have a higher chance of relapses.
Talk with your pediatrician for guidance on making any needed dietary and exercise changes. They may refer you to a dietitian or physical therapist.
Working with your child’s healthcare team can set your child up for success.