The Paleo diet takes as its inspiration, as its name implies, the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (i.e., Paleolithic times). Basically, it is founded on the concept that the human body cannot handle the highly processed foods of today, and is better adapted to eating foods that are found naturally. These include fresh meat (lean game meats), fish, nuts, vegetables and fruits, but exclude dairy, grains, pulses (certain types of legume, like died beans, chickpeas and lentils), potatoes, and all processed food.
Adjusting to a Paleo diet might not be bad for a person with MS, but extra effort is needed to ensure all necessary nutrients are being supplied, as cutting dairy, grains, and pulses can result in deficiencies in folic acid, thiamine and vitamin B6 (from cereals), calcium and vitamin D (from dairy).
Paleo diet guidelines
Guidelines for the Paleo diet exist, such as avoiding foods with have a high glycemic index (food like carbohydrates that raise blood sugar significantly), and emphasizing non-domesticated (game) meats and plant-based foods besides cereals — like fruits, roots, legumes, and nuts. Animal protein should be the source of about 30%–35% of daily caloric intake, and the ratio of saturated fats to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) is 1.4-2:1 (or close to 1:2. In today’s diet, this ratio is about 10:1). The diet is rich in plant-derived fibers.
Paleo diet and research
A Phase 1 study (NCT01381354) from the University of Iowa evaluated the effects of a modified paleolithic diet, exercise, stretching, massage, meditation, and electric stimulation of muscles in people with secondary progressive MS over 12 months. Significant improvement in fatigue scores was reported at the study’s end, but its multimodal approach means it is impossible to link the fatigue decline to any one factor.
Another small study from the Netherlands concluded that consuming a Paleo diet for two weeks improved cardiovascular risk, compared to a healthy reference diet, in people with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions often traced to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet).
Paleo diet and Wahls Protocol
The Paleo diet is also central to the The Wahls Protocol, created by Dr. Terry Wahls after she was diagnosed with MS in 2000. The Wahls Protocol adopted the nutrient-rich Paleo diet for its vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and integrated into a regimen of neuromuscular stimulation. She claims that this protocol has “allowed her to reverse many of her symptoms,” and to “get back to her life.”
Following a special diet may help some people with MS, although evidence supports no one particular diet but finds potential benefits in several. Patients would do well to consult with their personal physician before starting a diet that best meets their individual needs and preferences.
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