Like everyone else, people with multiple sclerosis (MS) feel their best when they consistently eat a healthy, balanced diet. Most physicians who specialize in MS recommend the same low-fat, high-fiber diet recommended by the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. Clinical studies have shown some benefits – better quality of life, lower rates of disability, possibly even fewer relapses and slower disease progression – for people with MS when they adhere to a diet low in saturated fat, get enough Vitamin D, and supplement with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
It is also proven that some MS symptoms are made worse by certain foods; if you avoid them, these symptoms can improve.
In addition, a healthy diet can prevent obesity or help you lose weight. Obesity exacerbates many of the symptoms of MS, can speed progression of disability, and can lead to developing diabetes and other related conditions.
Due to the unpredictable nature of MS progression, it is difficult to measure the impact of diet over other factors. There is no scientific evidence that any diet can cure MS or reverse its symptoms. There are many misleading claims that one diet or another can effectively treat MS. Most of these claims are based on personal narratives and not on controlled scientific trials. These individuals may have experienced spontaneous improvement in their condition, but it could be related to other factors apart from diet.
Some popular diets may contain toxic levels of some nutrients or dangerously low levels of others. No diet is ever a good substitute for clinically proven MS drug therapies.
What does it involve?
Always consult your doctor before you begin to take a new supplement or make significant changes to your diet.
Saturated fats come from high-fat animal products, fried foods, and baked goods made with tropical oils. Reduce your saturated fat intake to less than 15 grams a day by limiting your consumption of foods such as fatty beef, pork, chicken with skin, lard, cream, butter, cheese, full-fat or 2 percent milk or yogurt. Instead, choose skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and skin-free chicken or fish.
Always check labels on baked goods and avoid those made with palm oil, palm kernel oil or coconut oil.
Dietary fiber keeps your heart healthy and your bowels working properly. If you experience constipation as a symptom of MS, increasing your fiber intake may help. You can take fiber supplements or eat more high-fiber foods including vegetables, dried or fresh fruits, legumes such as peas or beans, some nuts including almonds and pistachios, and whole-grain products. Making the switch from white bread to whole-grain, from white rice to brown rice, or from regular pasta to whole-grain pasta will also add fiber to your diet. Always check labels to make sure products are whole-grain.
To increase your intake of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, you can either take supplements or simply eat more foods rich in these substances. Foods such as fatty fish (salmon, trout and tuna), flaxseed oil and cod-liver oil naturally contain Omega 3, and many foods including eggs, milk, soy milk, juice, bread and peanut butter may be supplemented with them – check labels to find out. To get more Omega 6, use sunflower oil, safflower seed oil or grapeseed oil.
Drinks containing aspartame (such as diet soft drinks), alcohol, or caffeine can irritate the bladder. If you have problems with bladder control, avoiding these types of drinks may ease them.
To learn more about Vitamin D, see this related article.
Optimizing your nutrition will help you feel your personal best. A diet low in fat and high in fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight, and avoiding alcohol, caffeine and aspartame can decrease your bladder and bowel symptoms. Eating right and getting plenty of Vitamin D, Omega 3 and Omega 6 may help your body fight the symptoms of MS and lessen the rates of relapse and disease progression.
In 1990, Dr. Roy Swank published the results of a study on the benefits of a low-fat diet for people with MS. The study involved 144 people over 34 years. At the end of the study, those who adhered to a diet with less than 20 grams of fat per day showed less progression of disability than those who consumed more than 20 grams of fat per day. Some scientists and physicians do not consider this study to have been properly controlled or rigorous enough in its methods to constitute conclusive proof that the diet is significantly beneficial.
A study on the benefits of Omega 3 supplements published in 2005 followed 31 people with MS. The two groups were given either a low-fat (15 percent) diet and fish oil supplements or a diet with 30 percent fat plus olive oil supplements. Over six months, the fish oil group experienced less fatigue, and both groups suffered fewer relapses than they had over the previous 12 months. Patients were concurrently taking drug therapies.
A 2014 study collected detailed information from 2,087 people with MS about their diets, MS symptoms, disability levels, relapse rate and quality of life. After controlling for age, gender and other variables, the results showed that those with healthy consumption of fruit, vegetables and dietary fat had significantly higher quality of life and lower rates of disability than those with unhealthy diets. Better diet also indicated marginal improvements in relapse rate and disease activity.
Fatigue or physical disabilities may make it more difficult to find the energy to prepare fresh, healthy meals. Making large batches of food in advance and freezing several portions for the future can help conserve energy.
You may feel disappointed to give up favorite high-fat foods. However, think of diet changes as a chance to explore unfamiliar foods and find new favorites. Many recipe books focus on low-fat, high-fiber cooking and provide a wealth of exciting ideas.
Depending on where you live, it may be harder to get to a grocery store with a good selection of produce and other healthy foods.