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Artificially sweetened drinks could increase MS symptoms

Researchers found the sugar and calories in these drinks really add up

Photo (c) OcusFocus - Getty Images
Consuming too much sugar -- particularly in the form of soda or other sweet beverages -- isn’t good for anyone’s health, but a new study found that it could be particularly detrimental for those with multiple sclerosis (MS).

According to researchers, drinking around two cans of soda per day -- or the equivalent in calories -- can increase the severity of MS symptoms.

“MS patients often want to know how diet and specific foods can affect the progression of their disease,” said Dr. Elisa Meier-Gerdingh. “While we did not find a link with overall diet, interestingly, we did find a link with those who drank sodas, flavored juices, and sweetened teas and coffees.”

Steering clear of sugar

To see how food or drink affected MS symptoms, the researchers had over 130 participants with MS fill out a questionnaire about their diets on a day-to-day basis and also rated their disability on the Expanded Disability Status Scale.

The researchers measured each participant’s diet responses against the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, as the program promotes better overall health by having consumers focus on eating fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

While food was not a factor in worsening symptoms, the researchers did find a correlation between sugary drinks and MS symptoms -- the more sugar they consumed through soda, tea, or coffee, the more intense the symptoms.

Based on the study, the researchers found that the participants were five times more likely to be on the severe side of the Expanded Disability Status Scale when they consumed around 290 calories of sugar-sweetened drinks each day, or around two cans of soda.

Those who consumed the least amount of soda or sugar-sweetened drinks had an average disability score of under 3.5, whereas the more frequent soda drinkers were over 4 on the disability scale.

The researchers hope to expand upon this study in the future, but they are confident that these findings provide a good springboard for those suffering with MS.

“While these results need to be confirmed by larger studies that follow people over a long period of time, and the results do not show that soda and sugar-sweetened beverages cause more severe disability, we do know that sodas have no nutritional value and people with MS may want to consider reducing or eliminating them from their diet,” said Dr. Meier-Gerdingh.

Recent breakthroughs

Recently, researchers found a new way to treat MS by focusing on the body’s ability to heal itself.

While it is still unclear how or why people are diagnosed with MS, scientists do know that the myelin sheath -- a covering that protects nerve fibers in cells -- becomes compromised in these individuals. With this new study, researchers found that myelin repair cells in the central nervous system can work to repair themselves and restore the myelin sheath. The researchers hope that this finding can lead to future discoveries in drugs and other treatment methods for MS patients.

Another recent study found that people with MS have higher levels of a protein known as calnexin. The researchers believe that controlling calnexin levels could be a new pathway for experts to create a new treatment option.

“We think this exciting finding identifies calnexin as an important target for developing therapies for MS,” said researcher Luis Agellon.

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