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Healthy Eating and MS

Medically reviewed by Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Written by Laurie Berger
Updated on March 11, 2021

Adopting a healthy diet with multiple sclerosis (MS) is an important part of an overall MS wellness plan. A nutritious, well-balanced diet has the potential to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).

Researchers are discovering that a healthy diet can impact energy level, bladder and bowel function, and overall well-being in people with MS. Healthy foods may even be able to change the course of the disease by limiting inflammation that can damage nerves, and promoting nervous system repair. Eating nutritious foods can help prevent other chronic conditions that are common in people with MS, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

MS Diet: What Should You Eat?

People with MS seeking to change their dietary habits to reduce MS symptoms are often at a loss for what to eat. Unlike heart disease and obesity, no single “MS diet” has been scientifically proven to treat or cure MS, nor has the medical community issued standard-of-care dietary guidelines for people with MS.

Current studies of diets thought to have MS benefits – such as plant-based, low saturated fat, Paleo, and Mediterranean regimens – report mixed results. Most diets have not been subjected to rigorous, controlled studies. Some may even make misleading claims, and contain toxic levels of certain nutrients, or dangerously low levels of others. No diet should ever replace clinically proven MS drug therapies.

In the absence of clinical evidence supporting safe and effective MS diets, physicians who specialize in MS recommend following the same low-fat, high-fiber diets the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society suggest for the general population. Those diets include fresh, minimally processed, mostly plant-based foods that are low in saturated fats and high in vitamin D, Omega-3, and Omega-6 fatty acids.

MS Diet: Best Foods for MS

Research studies have identified the possibility of some benefits – better quality of life, lower rates of disability - possibly even fewer relapses and slower disease progression – when people with MS adopt a healthy diet. More research is needed to deepen the scientific understanding of diet’s role in MS. A comprehensive guide from NMSS details the best foods for MS:

  • Good fats — Also known as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (PUFA and MUFA), good fats found in fish, walnuts, and flax seeds, olive oil, avocados, and certain nuts can help lower cholesterol. There is also some evidence that these fats may help decrease the severity and duration of MS flares.
  • Fatty fish — Certain seafood, including salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines, are very high in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D-rich foods — There is some evidence that vitamin D may reduce MS symptoms and slow MS progression. More research is needed to understand the role of vitamin D in MS. The nutrient can be found in salmon, sardines, tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
  • Lean meats — Chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef can help limit the amount of dietary fat consumed each day.
  • Plant-based proteins — Nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, and soy products are some of the richest sources of non-meat protein.
  • Whole grains — Oats, brown rice, quinoa and other whole grains can help increase fiber and maintain blood sugar.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables — Eating an assortment of brightly colored produce can also help ease constipation and stabilize blood sugar.
  • Hydration — Some people with MS may limit their fluid intake if they have problems with bladder urgency, however this can lead to bladder infections, constipation, and other problems.

Since preparing fresh, healthy foods can be time consuming and hard for people with fatigue and mobility issues, the National MS Society offers tips and tricks for quick and easy meals, cooking ahead, food storage, and grab-and-go snacks.

MS Diet: What Researchers Are Finding

Foods and MS

Researchers are currently studying the roles of red wine, polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), salt, and gut bacteria on inflammation, which have been shown to increase MS activity in the brain, bones and body. Several studies have also investigated how dietary salt impacts MS disease activity and how eating more fish may decrease the risk of developing MS.

Supplements and MS

Both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are being investigated to understand their role in the development and progression of MS. Further research is needed to understand how these supplements could be used in MS treatment. Always speak to your doctor before adding a new dietary supplement. Some supplements can cause dangerous interactions with medication.

MS and Diet: What Foods Are Members of MyMSTeam Eating?

Switching to a healthy diet has helped many MyMSTeam members improve their overall well-being. Diets that work for one person, however, may not work for another. Here’s what works for MyMSTeam members:

You Are Not Alone: Talk To Others About MS Diets

On MyMSTeam, the social network and online support group for people living with multiple sclerosis, members talk about a range of personal experiences. Making dietary changes as part of an overall MS wellness plan is one of the most popular topics.

Learn more about Wellness and MS. Exercising, addressing related conditions, and finding your new normal can also help improve well-being in people with MS.

Updated on March 11, 2021
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Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Laurie Berger has been a health care writer, reporter, and editor for the past 14 years. Learn more about her here.

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