The Swank diet emphasizes foods low in saturated fat. The Wahls Protocol diet is a modified paleo protocol — high in lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds but low in starches. Recent research found that both eating plans significantly reduced fatigue and improved quality of life for people with MS.
The study results, published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal — Experimental, Translational and Clinical, were based on 77 participants with relapsing-remitting MS. A total of 39 people followed the Wahls diet, and 38 adhered to the Swank diet for 12 weeks. Seventy-two participants (35 on Wahls and 37 on Swank) also completed a 24-week follow-up. Participants were evaluated on self-reported measures of fatigue, quality of life, and physical function. During the study, which was partly supported by a grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, participants were asked to keep taking their prescribed disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS and continue their daily physical routines and stress-reduction regimens.
At 12 weeks, researchers observed that fatigue significantly dropped in both groups, and the improvement in energy was sustained at 24 weeks. Both groups also experienced a boost in quality of life, with the Wahls group advancing on both mental and physical scales, and the Swank cohort improving more on the physical rather than the mental scale.
“The take-home message is that both these diets are helpful,” said lead study author Terry Wahls, M.D., clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Health Care. “Afterward, we encouraged participants in each group to try either diet to see which they preferred.”
Watch Dr. Terry Wahls discuss the Wahls Protocol diet with MyMSTeam co-founder Eric Peacock.
Dr. Wahls advised that no matter what diet someone living with MS tries, it’s important to follow it fully. “Doing a diet at 100 percent is vastly different from doing it at 50 or 70 percent,” she said. “If you don’t try a diet at 100 percent for whatever time period you’ve decided, you won’t know if it really works or not.”
While the Swank and Wahls diets do differ, one common factor to both is an increased intake of vegetables. The Wahls group consumed six to nine servings of vegetables a day, and the Swank group took in up to four servings a day. Both diets also underscored the benefits of consuming fruits and unsaturated fat while limiting the intake of highly processed foods.
Dr. Wahls noted that she developed her eponymous diet based on personal experience. Along with having progressive MS that has required her to use a reclining wheelchair at times, Wahls also has trigeminal neuralgia, which causes sudden, severe facial pain.
“Through diet and other lifestyle changes, I went in one year from being unable to sit up and really devastating levels of trigeminal neuralgia to being pain-free, no brain fog, walking again without a cane, and biking 18.5 miles,” said Dr. Wahls.
In her clinical practice, Dr. Wahls also has seen her MS patients make remarkable improvements in mental clarity, mood stabilization, quality of life, fatigue, and motor skills through diet and lifestyle changes.
“People who are willing to do the work can achieve remarkable changes in their disability,” she said.