A study investigates associations between lifestyle, depression and anxiety in people with MS.

  • A large Australian study provides further evidence that depression and anxiety are common in people with MS.
  • The study suggests that, like the broader population, most people with MS are not meeting recommendations on lifestyle behaviours relating to smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and physical activity.
  • The research shows links between lifestyle factors and depression and anxiety outcomes.
  • A healthy diet was shown to be linked to lower levels of depression in people with MS.
  • These findings indicate more research is needed to investigate whether modifying lifestyle factors can provide a helpful treatment and management approach for people with MS experiencing depression and anxiety.

What is the link between MS, depression and anxiety?

Depression and anxiety can be symptoms of MS as both can result from inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. However, the psychological impact of an MS diagnosis can also contribute to these conditions.

Depression and anxiety have also been associated with increased inflammation, fatigue and disability, and contribute significantly towards reduced quality of life in people with MS. While interventions such as medications and psychological support can be effective, many people living with MS do not seek medical help for these issues.

What are modifiable lifestyle factors?

Modifiable lifestyle factors are parts of a person’s lifestyle that they may be able to change or influence such as: smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and physical activity. People with MS are often interested in how they can make changes to their lifestyle to help manage their condition, and research in this area is ongoing.

Research into depression, anxiety and modifiable lifestyle factors

To explore whether modifiable lifestyle factors contribute to some of the symptoms of MS, Dr Claudia Marck from the University of Melbourne collaborated with Dr Ingrid van der Mei from Menzies Institute for Medical Research, who runs MS Research Australia’s Australian MS Longitudinal Study.

Over 1,500 people with MS completed a survey on various lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and levels of physical activity. Participants also responded to a survey on anxiety and depression. The data was carefully analysed for a link between lifestyle behaviours and the occurrence and severity of anxiety and depression symptoms.

What did this latest research study discover?

Findings showed that smoking (defined as more than one cigarette, cigar or pipe per day) and consuming more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day are linked to the increased occurrence of depression in this study. Severity of depression also increased with higher levels of smoking.

Those who followed a healthy diet, eating five or more servings of vegetables a day or two or more servings of fruit at least six days a week, were on the whole found to have a lower severity of depression.

This study also showed that with each additional healthy behaviour, the occurrence and severity of depression reduced proportionally.

What do these research findings mean?

The research provides further evidence that depression and anxiety are common in people with MS.

The study found that lifestyle factors are associated with a lower frequency and severity of depression, but not anxiety, in people with MS.

Further research is needed to fully understand if modifying lifestyle factors can become a treatment option for people with MS experiencing these symptoms.

This study is a stepping-stone towards developing a strong, evidence-based and holistic approach to managing MS and its symptoms, which includes factors people with MS can control themselves to reduce the impact of MS on their lives.

The full results from this study have recently been published in the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavia.

With thanks to MS Research Australia – the lead provider of research summaries on our website.