Living with multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that interferes with nerve impulses within the brain causing a number of adverse physical symptoms that vary from person to person.

Head of the Neuroepidemiology Unit (NEU) Professor George Jelinek and his team are researching identifiable lifestyle risk factors that predict health outcomes for people with multiple sclerosis.

Professor Jelinek has lived with multiple sclerosis for 16 years and is dedicated to remaining well through the modifiable behaviour he researches.

Professor George Jelinek

The team is conducting a longitudinal research study into lifestyle risk factors and preventive medicine for those with multiple sclerosis to see if intervention strategies can be used as a secondary preventive approach to managing MS alongside medication.

They found that people with MS who eat well, take vitamin D supplements and maintain a healthier physical lifestyle, have reduced odds of fatigue. Likewise, those who had healthy dietary habits and a more active lifestyle reported lower levels of disability.

The potential to slow the progression of the disease for those with MS by implementing some changes to one's lifestyle is something that Professor Jelinek is keen to research further with randomised controlled trials.

While the damage done to the nervous system might not be reparable for many people with MS, a reduction in attacks and stabilisation of the disease can help protect the spine and brain allowing those with MS to live with better control of their future.

'This research has the potential to markedly improve the lives of people with MS everywhere,' said Professor Jelinek. 'The aim is to have a relatively simple lifestyle change that can be implemented by people with MS alongside their medications to improve their health outcomes and slow or stop their progression to disability.'

The research builds on the work of many other epidemiologists in Australia and world-wide in elucidating the critical lifestyle factors associated with disease progression in MS.

The team work with colleagues at the Melbourne School of Psychology, and receive expert advice from colleagues at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Psychologist Dr Lisa Kiropoulos is collaborating on a study of the health of partners of people with MS, and University of Melbourne Professor Anne-Louise Ponsonby at the Royal Children's Hospital sits on the Steering Committee of the Neuroepidemiology Unit and collaborates in research elucidating these lifestyle factors.

The research is intended to allow others with MS to improve their own quality of life and health outcomes through simple changes that can have a significant impact in slowing or stopping the progression of disease and reducing the severity of symptoms.

By Lisa Mamone