Is there a link between ultra-processed foods and MS?

13 February 2020

MSWA is proud to support a new investigation into the possible link between ultra-processed foods and the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS).

With no previous studies having reported an association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of MS, Curtin University’s Senior Research Fellow Dr Lucinda Black and her colleagues are aiming to find out if this is true.

“We know that consumption of convenient, low cost, highly processed, nutrient poor and high energy density foods is likely to contribute to the prevalence of chronic disease,” Dr Black said.

“So, we are interested in discovering if there is an association with the risk of MS.”

Ultra-processed foods fall into the fourth category of the NOVA classification system, a system recognised by global health agencies including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The system ranks foods into groups by degree of processing, with ultra-processed food being defined as having a composition of mostly or entirely industrial ingredients and containing little to no wholefoods.

Dr Black says these products are typically energy dense and nutrient poor, requiring no preparation.

“These products are foods that cannot be created at home as they contain industrial substances not usually found in the kitchen,” Dr Black said.

“Examples of ultra-processed foods are packaged snacks, confectionery, pastries, mass-produced breads, many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, instant and ready-to-eat meals, margarine and other spreads, processed meats and pastries.”

Using dietary intake data from the 2003-2006 Australian Multi-centre Study of Environment and Immune Function (Ausimmune Study), Dr Black and her team will test associations between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of MS.

MSWA is pleased to fund a summer scholarship for a Master of Dietetics student for this project, a PhD scholarship for related work, in addition to providing funding for another two years through MS Research Australia for Dr Black’s important research.