Can an MS Diet Help Symptoms?
I first got interested in special diets for multiple sclerosis (MS) when I stopped having noticeable relapses and worried my MS had become secondary progressive. My neurologist told me he doesn’t believe in labeling people so wouldn’t confirm it, but my MRI scan didn’t show any disease activity, indicating secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS).
The problem with SPMS is that there’s no treatment available yet. Disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) don't have an effect on SPMS, so I stopped putting myself through the hell of side effects and stopped taking my medication.
Research is going on all the time, and there are rumors of a new drug being trialed with some success, but for now, those of us with SPMS are, basically, on the MS scrap heap!
To me, it felt like there was nothing I could do that would have an impact on my MS and that was a scary thought. Having no control over the progression of my disease made me feel hopeless, and I didn’t want to give in to depression and misery.
Is It Possible to Treat Multiple Sclerosis With a Diet?
I reached out to friends on social media and discovered there are an army of people who swear by diet as a treatment for their MS. I heard some incredible tales of recovery so began to take notice.
Unfortunately, all the evidence seems to be anecdotal. As I investigated it in more detail, it became clear there’s no real scientific evidence for any particular diet, and they seem to contradict each other so which one should we follow?
I’ll look into some of the most popular to see if I can find any answers.
The Swank Diet
Developed in the 1940’s by Dr. Roy Swank, the Swank Diet is, perhaps one of the most well known of the special diets for MS.
The principles of this diet include restricting the amount of fat you can eat to no more than 15 grams a day (saturated) and 20-50 grams (unsaturated) It also limits the amount of red meat and oily fish you can eat although you can eat unlimited amounts of white fish.
Research into this diet hasn’t proved any benefits and haven’t been well designed, with high drop-out rates, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions. The good news is following this kind of diet shouldn’t cause you any harm as long as you watch your protein intake; cutting out meat can lead to protein deficits, so you need to find alternatives such as fish, beans, and pulses.
This diet can also lead to low energy, so care needs to be taken to maintain energy levels, something MSers needs to be aware of.
Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Diet
The overcoming multiple sclerosis (OMS) diet programme was developed by George Jelinek in 1999 following his diagnosis of MS. It combines different elements including diet, exercise, meditation, medication and vitamin D.
The principles are similar to the Swank diet in that it recommends cutting out dairy and meat and reducing fat intake. It also advocates supplements such as omega-3 oil and vitamin D.
Like the Swank Diet, research into the benefits of the OMS diet has been inconclusive but following it isn’t thought to be harmful. You also need to be aware of your protein intake and it may not be suitable for you if you have high energy needs or are under-weight.
The Best Bet Diet
This diet also recommends avoiding different food types, including all dairy, grains and red meat. It advises you to get protein from chicken, turkey, and fish and suggests allergy tests to find out which other foods should be avoided.
There are also 18 supplements it recommends, and it's worth remembering that such a high number of supplements can be expensive and there’s no conclusive evidence of any benefits.
Paleo Diets Including the Wahls Protocol
Paleo or Palaeolithic diets are modeled around what our ancestors would have eaten and suggested our bodies are best adapted to eating. The foods include meat (including red meat) fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruit. Foods to be avoided are dairy, grains, pulses, potatoes and all processed food.
Again, there is little research into the benefits, but a paleo diet isn’t considered bad for you as long as you make sure you’re getting enough nutrients considering you’re cutting out whole food groups. The amount of meat recommended is higher than what is thought to be healthy and can also be expensive.