It is generally accepted that everyone should be living a health lifestyle with a balanced, health diet. For many people diagnosed with MS a combination of changes to diet and lifestyle alongside treatments, if available, provides multiple benefits. Many people also choose to make dietary changes over treatment use. There is growing evidence to support the understanding of the role that environmental factors have in MS however the exact role that diet and dietary supplements can play in managing MS is still under investigation.
While the ideal diet is not conclusive there are several diet options that many people living with MS have tried and tested and find they are able to better manage their condition, reduce the impact their symptoms and improve their overall health. It is important to also make diet changes work for your lifestyle and budget. Many people will follow one of the widely promoted diet options but make slight adaptations to suit their own lifestyle.
We recommend doing your research into the different options and you should always consult with your GP before you make any changes to your diet, as it is important to ensure that you maintain your energy and nutrient levels.
The Wahls Protocol
The Wahls Protocol an integrative approach to healing chronic auto-immune conditions by a doctor, researcher, and sufferer of progressive multiple sclerosis.
Like many physicians, Dr. Terry Wahls focused on treating her patients’ ailments with drugs or surgical procedures—until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000. Within three years, her back and stomach muscles had weakened to the point where she needed a tilt-recline wheelchair. Conventional medical treatments were failing her, and she feared that she would be bedridden for the rest of her life.
Dr. Wahls began studying the latest research on autoimmune disease and brain biology, and decided to get her vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids from the food she ate rather than pills and supplements. Dr. Wahls adopted the nutrient-rich paleo diet, gradually refining and integrating it into a regimen of neuromuscular stimulation. First, she walked slowly, then steadily, and then she biked eighteen miles in a single day. In November 2011, Dr. Wahls shared her remarkable recovery in a TEDx talk that immediately went viral. Now, in The Wahls Protocol, she shares the details of the protocol that allowed her to reverse many of her symptoms, get back to her life, and embark on a new mission: to share the Wahls Protocol with others suffering from the ravages of multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions.
The Swank Diet
Swank Diet is perhaps the best known diet associated with MS. It is named after Dr. Roy Swank, who developed the diet in the 1940s. It restricts the amount of fat you can eat: no more than 15g of saturated fat a day, and between 20-50g of unsaturated fat. It also limits your intake of red meat and oily fish, although you can eat as much white fish as you like.
Research into this diet has not definitely proved any benefits. Although a number of studies have been carried out, they have not generally been well designed. They also had very high drop-out rates, so without knowing what happened to the people who dropped out of the study it is hard to draw clear conclusions. However, following this or a similar diet would not generally be considered bad for health.
Cutting down on meat and dairy foods to reduce saturated fats might leave a shortfall in protein, so it’s important to find alternative sources such as fish, beans and pulses.
Cod-liver oil has a blood-thinning effect and should be taken with caution if you take aspirin, anti-coagulant medications (for example, warfarin) or have a bleeding disorder.
If you have diabetes you should also speak to your doctor before taking cod-liver oil. This diet can be low in energy and unless care is taken to maintain energy intake, it may not be suitable if you have high energy needs or are underweight.
George Jelinek’s Overcoming MS programme
The Overcoming MS (OMS) programme was developed by Dr George Jelinek in 1999 following his own diagnosis with MS. It combines a number of different elements, including diet, exercise, meditation, vitamin D and medication.
The OMS diet recommendations are similar to the Swank diet. It advocates cutting out dairy and meat, and reducing fat intake – particularly saturated fat. It also recommends supplementation, particularly with omega 3 (in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil) and vitamin D if your exposure to sunlight is limited.
Research into this diet has not provided conclusive evidence of its benefits. However, as with the Swank diet, following the OMS programme is not likely to be considered bad for you. You should make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet, through eating plenty of fish, beans or pulses. Likewise, the diet may be low in energy, so it may not be suitable for you if you have high energy needs or you are already underweight.
The Best Bet Diet
The Best Bet diet recommends avoiding several different food types, including all dairy, grains and red meat. Fish, chicken and turkey are recommended for protein. It also recommends having allergy tests to discover other foods to be avoided and includes a list of 18 recommended supplements.
Currently, research doesn’t suggest that there are beneﬁts for MS from taking large numbers of supplements or from cutting out any of these food types completely. It’s also worth remembering that taking supplements can be expensive.
Like the Swank Diet, this diet can also be low in energy so care should be taken if you have a high energy need or are underweight.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo – or Paleolithic – diet is based around the foods that a caveman would have had access to. The idea is that these are the kinds of foods our bodies are best adapted to eating. This includes meats, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruit, but excludes dairy, grains, pulses, potatoes and processed food.
There has been very little research into the benefits of this diet for people with MS. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that it will affect the course of someone’s MS. One small study, looking at a programme which included the Paleo diet alongside exercise, supplements and meditation, found that it may reduce fatigue.
Following the Paleo diet would not generally be considered bad for you, although you would have to make sure you were getting all the nutrients you need. Cutting out whole food groups such as dairy, wholegrains and pulses is restrictive. The large amounts of meat recommended are higher than current health advice on how much meat you should eat, and can also be expensive.
Acknowledgements: Diet and Nutrition – MS Society (UK)