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MS and Diet: How Does Food Affect You?

Beware and Take Care

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you’ve probably heard conflicting claims about a new diet or supplement that could help your symptoms. More studies are now being done to examine how nutrition can impact MS patients. However, many results have been conflicting or inconclusive.

Some diet plans can jeopardize your health and omit nutrients. Eating a well-balanced, low-fat diet full of fiber and colorful fruits and vegetables is likely the best place to start. Talk with your doctor to find out the facts before starting any diet plan.

Keep reading to find out about emerging research regarding MS and diet.

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Low Fat

Low Fat for Good Health

According to the , many neurologists recommend a low-fat, high-fiber diet to maintain optimal health. This includes avoiding saturated fats and trans fats, and eating healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and avocadoes. Unsaturated fats are important building blocks of myelin and nervous system tissue.

Keep in mind that moderation is the key. Less than 30 percent of daily calories should come from any kind of fat.

Swank Diet

Swank Diet — Mixed Results

In the 1980s, Dr. Roy Swank developed a very strict, low-fat diet for MS patients. In the Swank diet, fats are restricted. Fish oils are allowed. According to the , overall calories from fat should be less than 30 percent of daily intake, or a maximum of 65 grams of total fat a day.

In a 1990 article in , Swank’s research group reported that people with MS who followed his diet saw less deterioration and lower mortality rates. However, some researchers aren’t convinced there’s enough current data to back up his claims. Studies are ongoing to determine if the Swank diet or other extremely low-fat diets have significant benefits for people with MS.

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PUFAs

PUFA Promise

have shown that increasing intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help patients with MS. These unsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory effects in .

Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, in combination with other nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, decreased relapse rates and slowed disease progression in a . However, other show no effect.

Overall, if it’s worthwhile to add supplementation with PUFAs to an MS treatment regimen. Studies are inconclusive, and research is ongoing.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Research published in the indicates that sufficient vitamin D levels may prevent the development of autoimmune diseases like MS. Research published in the suggests that vitamin D can also influence relapse rate and the number of lesions seen on MRIs. However, there still needs to be more studies for conclusive evidence.

Many neurologists recommend supplementation if blood levels are low. Recommended daily intake is 600 IU. However, patients with low vitamin D take as much as for a few months. Too much vitamin D can be toxic, so speak with your doctor before taking any supplements.

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Gluten

The Evils of Gluten

The effects of a gluten-free diet on MS are conflicting. suggests that some people with MS also have antibodies that are normally associated with celiac disease, an allergy to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other grains. The presence of these antibodies suggests a link between immune intolerance to gluten and autoimmune diseases like MS.

However, and some neurologists suggest that there is no link between gluten antibodies and MS. More studies need to be done to draw any solid conclusions.

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Antioxidants

Antioxidants

Free radicals do some of the damage that occurs during the formation of MS lesions. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, and can be neutralized by antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, and selenium. A recent revealed that people with MS had significantly lower antioxidant levels and higher oxidative stress in their saliva.

Chronic inflammation during an attack can cause deficiencies in antioxidant levels in the body. Supplementation may restore levels of these key nutrients. However, high doses may have other effects on MS patients that have not been studied.

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Ongoing Research

Ongoing Research

Researchers are looking into the role that nutrition can play in treating MS, but many questions remain. Vitamin D shows promise in slowing the progression of MS. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be valuable in protecting nerve health. Antioxidants and other nutrients like probiotics may play valuable roles in a treatment regimen. How the gut microbiome, or intestinal bacteria population, affects neurodegenerative diseases is a new frontier in research. Early shows that improving gut bacteria can reduce the risk of gut permeability, may improve symptoms of MS, and may slow the progression of the disease.

For now, a diet low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in plant foods — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — seems to be the most evidence-based diet for the best long-term health of an MS patient. However, there’s not enough evidence yet to show clear benefits of their use.

Article resources
  • Bargut, T. C., Mandarim-de-Lacerda, C. A., & Aguila, M. B. (2015, May). A high-fish-oil diet prevents adiposity and modulates white adipose tissue inflammation pathways in mice [Abstract]. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, S0955-2863(15). Retrieved from
  • Besler, H. T., et al. (2002, June). Serum levels of antioxidant vitamins and lipid peroxidation in multiple sclerosis. Nutritional Neuroscience, 5(3), 215-220. Retrieved from
  • Bowling, A. C. (2001). Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York, NY: Demos Medical Publishing.
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  • Karlik, M., Valkovic, P., Hancinova, V., Krizova, L., Tothova, L., & Celec, P. (2015, January). Markers of oxidative stress in plasma and saliva in patients with multiple sclerosis [Abstract]. Clinical Biochemistry, 48(1-2), 24-28. Retrieved from
  • Mark, B., & Carson, J. (2006, March). Vitamin D and autoimmune disease – Implications for practice from the multiple sclerosis literature. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 106(3), 418-424. Retrieved from
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  • Pantzaris, M. C., Loukaides, G. N., Ntzani, E. E., & Patrikios, I. S. (2013, April). A novel oral nutraceutical formula of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with vitamins (PLP10) in relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proof-of-concept clinical trial [Abstract]. British Medical Journal Open, 3(4). Retrieved from
  • Pierrot-Deseilligny, C., & Souberbielle, J. C. (2013). Contribution of vitamin D insufficiency to the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders, 6(2), 81-116. Retrieved from
  • Riccio, P. (2011, August). The molecular basis of nutritional intervention in multiple sclerosis: A narrative review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 19(4), 228-237. Retrieved from
  • Shor, D., et al. (September 2009) Gluten sensitivity in multiple sclerosis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1173, 343-349. Retrieved from
  • Swank, R., & Dugan, B. (1990). Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis. Lancet, 336(8706), 37-9. Retrieved from
  • Swanson, J. (2013, March). Is there any proof that vitamin D supplements can prevent MS or keep symptoms of MS from worsening? Retrieved from
  • Von Geldern, G., & Mowry, E. (2012, December). The influence of nutritional factors on the prognosis of multiple sclerosis. Nature Reviews Neurology, 8, 678-689. Retrieved from
  • Wergeland, S., Torkildson, O., Bo, L., & Myhr, K. M. (2012). Polyunsaturated fats in multiple sclerosis therapy. Acta Neurologica Scandinavia, 195, 70-75. Retrieved from . 
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