How diet could help improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Following a healthy diet low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables could be one way for MS sufferers to manage their symptoms. — Picture courtesy of andresr /
Following a healthy diet low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables could be one way for MS sufferers to manage their symptoms. — Picture courtesy of andresr /

NEW YORK, March 4 — March marks Multiple Sclerosis Month as associations aim to raise awareness of this condition that affects around 2.3 million people worldwide. Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause blurred vision, slurred speech, tremors, extreme fatigue, problems with memory, balance, and walking, and problems carrying out day-to-day tasks. There is no known cure, however medication and a healthy lifestyle can help ease symptoms of the condition and prevent its progressing.

Here we round up some recent research which suggests how the condition can be managed with a healthy diet, helping to reduce the risk of relapses and everyday discomfort for sufferers.

The Wahls diet

Terry Wahls MD credits her change in diet, now known as the Wahls diet, in helping reduce her MS symptoms. After researching effects of food and vitamins on the disease, Wahls created her own plan, which is a version of the Paleo diet. She advocates a diet of meat and fish, plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially leafy green and brightly coloured berries, and fat from both animal and plant sources with an emphasis on omega-3. Dairy products and eggs, grains such as wheat or rice, legumes such as beans and lentils, sugar, and vegetables from the Nightshade family such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, are not allowed. More research needs to be done to test the diet’s effectiveness but elements such as adding in more fish, fruit, and vegetables have been shown in many other studies to have a beneficial effect on everyone’s health, not only those with MS.

The Swank diet

Dr Swank published his own eating plan for MS back in 1972. A main focus of the diet is to reduce fat intake, with saturated fat in particular limited. One difference to the Wahls diet is that no red meat, including pork, is allowed for the first year, after which it can be reintroduced. You don’t have to go completely veggie though, with poultry and fish both permitted. Dairy and egg whites are allowed. Both the Swank and Wahl diets encourage plenty of fruit and vegetables and good fats such as those from nuts and seeds.

Low-fat diet

If the Wahls diet and Swank diet seem too restrictive, making more simple changes such as reducing fat and adding in more fruit and vegetables could also make a positive change.

A US study published last year found that in children with MS, a high-fat diet could increase the risk of experiencing a relapse. After analysing the diets of 219 children and young people, researchers found that for every 10 per cent increase in calorie intake that came from fat, there was an associated 56 per cent increased risk of a relapse. Saturated fat, which comes from animal fat, increased the risk even further, with every 10 per cent increase in calories from this type of “bad” fat tripling the chance of experiencing a relapse.

Fill up on fruit and veggiesThe same study also found that consuming more fruit and vegetables had a positive effect on children with MS, with the team finding that each additional cup of vegetables appeared to halve the risk of relapse, independent of fat consumption.

In addition, research carried out by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore found that adults suffering from MS may be able to reduce their symptoms by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Among participants eating a healthy diet also rich in wholegrains, those eating 3.3 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes per day were less likely to have more severe physical disability than people in the group with the least healthy diet, as well as less likely to suffer severe depression. — AFP-Relaxnews

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