Healthy Living

The Relationship Between Sodium and Multiple Sclerosis

The Relationship Between Sodium and Multiple Sclerosis

Salt is an essential element that your body requires for maintaining proper bodily functions. It helps your muscles and nerves to work to their fullest capacity and maintains the balance of fluids within your body. This, in turn, helps control your blood volume and blood pressure levels. However, too much salt can lead to a rise in blood pressure, thus increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have multiple sclerosis, then you might be interested to know about new studies that suggest a connection between high salt consumption and MS flare-ups. While many factors have been studied to rule out causes relating to MS, salt consumption had not been assessed until recently.

Salt and MS: The studies

70 individuals with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) in Argentina took part in a study over the course of two years. Each participant provided blood samples and urine samples in order to test the amount of salt in their diet, as well as their levels of vitamin D. Moreover, MRI scans were conducted on each participant to collect information relating to their number of lesions and relapses. Researchers also studied a second group of 52 individuals with the same condition, only they were assessed over the course of one month. This group of 52 individuals was further divided into three subgroups where the first group was given less than 2g of salt per day, the second group was given between 2 – 4.8g per day, and the third group was given more than 4.8g of salt per day.

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Overall, the study took into account several factors such as age, gender, levels of vitamin D, medical treatment, smoking status, and disease duration. The results found that individuals who consumed a higher level of salt experienced more lesions and more relapses. However, the authors noted that the participants who had more relapses received more steroids and as a result, their level of sodium may have increased.

Contradictory to the above study by researchers from Argentina, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, the John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and several other institutions stated that eating a diet high in salt does not worsen or speed up MS symptoms. The latest study, “Sodium intake and multiple sclerosis activity and progression in BENEFIT”, appeared in the journal Annals of Neurology. It involved monitoring 465 patients with CIS, which is the first neurological episode that is triggered by inflammation of loss of the myelin sheath protecting the neurons. Each participant provided around 14 urine samples over the course of five years.

Results of the study

Researchers observed the salt content of the urine samples within 24 hours and found that higher sodium levels in urine did not affect MS relapse rate nor did it lead to quicker conversion rates to MS. Using MRI scans, the team found no connection between sodium levels in urine and MS lesion activity in the brain. However, as a large and approaching study, researchers noted that while they found no connection between salt consumption and MS prognosis, they could not comment as to whether higher levels of sodium amplify the risk of developing MS. Furthermore, it is currently unknown as to whether the same results apply to other population groups and ethnicities.

While there are no definitive findings that suggest a specific “salt-free” diet can have a vast impact on the development and progression of MS, doctors typically recommend following a healthy and varied diet. For adults, it is recommended to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams on a daily basis and a limit to 1,500mg a day in individuals suffering from conditions such as hypertension. However, reducing consumption of salt is not just about reducing the amount of salt. It is also about eliminating or limiting your intake of certain foods – which is especially important if you have MS. Although there is no specific diet for multiple sclerosis, eating healthy foods can increase the time between relapses and increase your overall well-being. Controversy, a poor diet can aggravate or worsen your existing MS symptoms, such as fatigue and weakness. Here are a few foods that you may want to steer clear of in order to better manage your condition:

  • Milk and dairy products such as cheese, butter, whey powder;
  • Saturated fats - smoked meat, red meat, bacon, chocolate;
  • Trans fats – pies, crackers, baked goods;
  • Refined grains – white rice, white bread, potatoes;
  • Gluten – barley, rye, pasta;
  • Sugar - candy, cookies, cakes;
  • Caffeinated drinks – coffee, energy drinks, tea;
  • Alcohol

On a positive note, your symptoms can be managed and progression of MS can be significantly slowed down by consuming foods rich in proper vitamins and minerals. The below foods have shown to improve the quality of life in MS patients so consider giving them a try:

  • Lean meats – turkey, organic chicken;
  • Whole grains – oats, quinoa, brown rice;
  • Foods rich in vitamin D – orange juice;
  • Fruits – watermelon, strawberries and other berries, bananas, papaya, mango, pineapple, grapefruit;
  • Vegetables – avocado, kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, peppers, carrots, sweet corn, mushrooms, ginger, cabbage;
  • Fatty fish – tuna, trout, salmon;
  • Plant-based oils – coconut oil, flaxseed oil;
  • Nuts and seeds

In general, Americans consume more salt than the recommended intake. Since salt is 40% sodium, doctors advise that many individuals may benefit from following a healthy and well-balanced low salt diet plan. A low salt diet should be part of your balanced diet and include proper nutrients that your body needs in order to remain active and healthy. The theory behind a low salt diet is to focus more on consuming whole-foods and limit your intake of processed foods.

If you are wondering whether you should cut out salt completely from your diet, the answer is no. While too much salt is known to increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, or heart disease – your body still needs some salt. The sodium element in salt helps to regulate pH of the blood, sends signals to the central nervous system, and controls the amount of water in your body. If you are concerned about your salt consumption or anything for that matter relating to your medical condition or diet, it is recommended to see your GP or another healthcare professional.

Does high salt consumption affect MS? This question still lingers as this area of research is continuously being tested. Some studies have suggested that high salt consumption can trigger your MS symptoms, while others suggest that they do not aggravate or worsen your condition whatsoever. While it may be difficult for you to give up certain foods, remember that there are always substitutes. Substitute vegetable oil for coconut oil, regular chicken for organic chicken, white rice for brown rice, and more. Additionally, just because you have MS does not mean that you have to make tons of sacrifices. Remember that every individual with MS is different - certain foods that aggravate someone’s symptoms may not necessary aggravate yours. Some individuals cannot handle citrus foods, while others have a hard time digesting whole grain foods. The bottom line is that moderation is a key factor. Let your body lead you and tell you what it needs.

References:

MS research update – Can too much dietary salt make MS worse? https://www.mstrust.org.uk/research/research-updates/update140901-does-dietary-salt-make-MS-worse

High Salt Consumption Has No Effect On Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms or Prognosis, Study Finds - https://multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com/2017/06/15/multiple-sclerosis-symptoms-prognosis-not-affected-by-high-sodium-intake-study-finds/