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diet and MS

There seems to be general agreement that achieving and keeping an overall level of good health is very important for people living with multiple sclerosis, or with any chronic illness for that matter. And one way to reach that goal, many will say, is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

It’s at this point, though, that my doubts start to kick in.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am as in favor of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating sensibly as anyone else, but there are far too many ‘Follow this great, heathy diet, buy my book’ deals out there. And not just pushing to the general public, either! These deals are creeping into the field of chronic illnesses, too, with claims like, “I cured my MS with my XYZ diet.”

At best, such claims are apocryphal — they are untested and unproven. At worst, they may be something akin to the ‘this-medicine-cures-all’ claims by charlatans in the days of the Wild West.

What we do know, at the moment, is there is no ‘MS diet’ that cures anything. Although, as the National MS Society (NMSS) in the U.S. says, “what and how you eat can make a difference in your energy level, bladder and bowel function, and overall health.”

The Society also notes: “MS specialists recommend that people with MS adhere to the same low-fat, high-fiber diet recommendations of the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society for the general population.”

Most diet benefits untested

Various diets have been, and still are, promoted as treatments, or even cures, for MS. Sadly, most have not been subjected to rigorous, controlled studies, and the few that have been evaluated have produced mixed results, says the NMSS.

“Most claims made for dietary treatments are based on personal accounts, and reported benefits may be changes that could have happened without any treatment,” it says.

There is some evidence that a diet low in saturated fats and supplemented by Omega-3 (from fatty fishes, cod-liver oil, or flaxseed oil) and Omega-6 (fatty acids from sunflower or safflower seed oil and possibly evening primrose oil) may have some benefit for people with MS. A recent research review paper by Pavan Bhargava, MD, provides information and current evidence for each of the most popular diets.

The worry is, however, that some diets that are supposed to help us may, in fact, be harmful, because they include potentially toxic amounts of certain vitamins, or exclude important nutrients. That’s why it’s important to consult with your healthcare professional before starting any diet that includes nutritional supplements or vitamins.

And if you have any concerns about gluten in your diet, have a look at this: A study published in BMC Neurology reported that selected MS patients and their immediate family members had a higher incidence of gluten intolerance than the general population.

But, the report adds: “That doesn’t mean all MS patients should go gluten-free. The decision to shift to a gluten-free diet, which eliminates all wheat, rye, barley, and triticale foods, should be made on a case-by-case basis.”

Just like everyone, with or without MS!

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this blog article are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Multiple Sclerosis. 

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Ian Franks is Managing Editor of the Columns division of BioNews Services. He has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain and uses his skills to write his own flourishing specialist MS, Health & Disability blog at Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.
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  1. Philip Longford says:

    I have been following (though not very strictly) the WAHLS Protocol Diet, for six months. No gluten, no dairy etc. No great change, but at least it feels like I am at least trying to do something, rather than just accepting defeat! I am making really good smoothies, using the Nutribullet liquidiser. Fantastic. You can make them really indulgent. Add rum, for a really interesting cocktail! Rather than just accepting fate, do something, anything, that might help. Diet, exercise, yoga, Baric oxygen treatment, FES. None may help you, but doing anything feels better than doing nothing.Trying to keep fit enough to benefit from stem cell treatment.

  2. Jess says:

    I agree with Philip – do something proactive for your health, don’t just sit back and give up hope (which from firsthand experience, is so easy to do). As with most afflictions, you shouldn’t simply take pills and hope for the best. If an aspect of MS is inflammation, eat an anti-inflammatory diet, do things to promote healing, take control of your disease (as much as you can). As I read comments throughout this website, it sounds like people, since being diagnosed in the 80s, have been told that a cure is right around the corner. Why not show these Pharma folks that there’s more we can do than spend all our money on their drugs. As a nurse, I’m all for the amazing things Western medicine is capable of but I do believe there’s more to healing. At this point, what is there to lose?

  3. Nikki Ely says:

    Hi Ian-thank you for this article.
    I really enjoyed it and agree with just eating healthy (low-fat) and sensibly (balanced with fruit & veggies) is the way to go versus all these fad MS diets.

  4. Kmitch says:

    I, too, appreciate your article. I don’t dispute what various authors have been able to bring about or experience through diet, exercise, supplements etc. However, for me personally, I have found it important to remind myself that books about how someone tried a special diet, followed a certain protocol or ran a marathon every day and nothing happened or changed don’t get published. The exceptional outcomes are the ones that draw attention and subsequently sell. I agree that it is important not to give up on ourselves upon our diagnosis/life with MS but alongside that keep in mind that what is attainable and possible for people with chronic illness varies wildly through factors that are not always within their control.
    I was diagnosed in 2006 and the darkest times I have ever had were during a period where I was delving into every holistic approach I came across and spending money chasing down every supplement regimen and “clean” diet I had heard works and that I could afford. I reached a place where I thought the reason I wasn’t better or “cured” was because I wasn’t doing “it” right, didn’t want it badly enough or wasn’t trying hard enough. I thankfully made it out of that period and while I have encountered others with stories like mine–so I know I am not alone, none of us yet have a book deal.

    • Jess says:

      you make a good point. out of curiousity & also because I’m in the beginning of my journey (if you’d like to share) how did you make it out of your dark time? did you decide to pursue standard medication protocols?

      • Kmitch says:

        Hi Jess, I would love to say that I came out of it through some sort of huge breakthrough moment but I didn’t have any sort of official, radical epiphany. A large part of it was realizing that I felt like hell despite what I was being told I would/should/could feel and was driving myself crazy and running myself ragged over it. I decided that while I believe in the importance of hope and the possibilities of alternative ideas/approaches, I don’t think those should come at the expense of the patient. There can be a lot to live up to with those “cures” and my own background in social work causes me to consider the other side of that where patients can feel self blame and shame if they don’t have those same results or can’t do it exactly so. Some see me as a pessimistic underachiever, and that is just fine by me as I know my beliefs aren’t always shared.
        As for standard meds, I have always been on a DMT. While I chose to chase down different alternative avenues, I know myself well enough to know that I would wrestle deeply with the decision to not be on meds if I were to experience an exacerbation. After ten years, in order, I have been on Avonex, Copaxone, Tysabri (for 5 solid years), Tecfidera, Gilenya and now, currently, off label and supported by the drug companies patient assistance program, Rituxan. Tysabri and Rituxan have worked the best for me but there is much to be considered when it comes to individual treatment. I hope I have answered your questions and I wish you the best as you start out this journey.

        • Jess says:

          thanks for your insight. I feel I’m wrestling with the exact opposite – I’m JC+ & I’m terrified to take anything…I feel like I’d wrestle everyday while knowingly swallowing a pill or sitting for an infusion that I could be starting a cascade of events leading to PML (aka my demise). It’s what I have struggled with for the past year, plus working as a nurse in a hospital exposes me to so many infectious diseases that I may come down with due to my suppressed immune system. I know it’s a personal decision that only I can make etc. but I honestly can’t confidently make that choice yet. I’ve had Copaxone in my fridge for a month but have yet to start. My MD at UCSF asked if I wanted to take part in a clinical trial for rHIgM22 but it’s second round Phase I so only for safety and efficacy. I’m debating if I should participate in that!! I feel like my anxiety is holding me back. Anyway, thank you again for sharing, it is truly appreciated – Tysabri seems to work for many but unfortunately is the one drug my doctors unanimously agree I shouldn’t take.

  5. Jj says:

    Have any if you tried STEM CELL THERAPY
    PRP??? With or without chemo! What results did you have? Where did you go? What was the cost?

    • Kmitch says:

      Hi Jj, I don’t have any experience with stem cell therapy though I follow the forthcoming news about results and personally find it pretty exciting!

  6. Barbara Brand says:

    Thank you for this article. I’ve had MS for almost 24 years and on the Swank diet for almost 23. Still fully mobile and active as a result!

    • Adam says:

      I was on the Swank diet with no relapse for 2 years though my left leg deteriorated of time. Now I’m following a spin off from the Swank diet that has had alot of good results by most on it. The OvercomingMultipleSclerosis (OMS)plan seems to be the norm in Australia!

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