Does Your Diet Affect Your MS?

It’s natural to want to do anything you can to help tame your multiple sclerosis symptoms. You take your medicine and keep up with your doctor visits. Would it also make a difference to change what you eat?

Although no diet is proven to give you relief, some nutrients may make a difference for better or worse.

There is no such thing as a special “MS diet” that has been proven to improve symptoms. Most doctors recommend you eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet similar to the one recommended for the general public by major medical organizations.

Go for a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, and legumes. Avoid items that are highly processed and high in saturated fat.

Gluten-Free May Not Help

Ditching gluten is popular, and for people who have celiac disease, it’s a must. But no research shows that it improves MS symptoms.

Several studies have found that people with MS aren’t more likely than anyone else to be sensitive to gluten. So if you decide to go gluten-free, MS probably is not the reason to do so.

Should You Go Paleo?

These plans favor lean meats, nuts, and berries. The approach stems from the idea that your body can process these ancient staples better than modern items, such as dairy products and processed carbohydrates.

There isn’t much research on Paleo diets and multiple sclerosis. In one small study, people with MS who followed the diet for a year said they were less tired than people who didn’t. But that might not just be about their diet, since they also exercised, stretched, and meditated during the study.

Mediterranean Diet

This traditional diet is one of the healthiest in the world. Although it’s not specific to MS, it’s good for you in general.

You’ll eat a lot of fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and olive oil. There’s no research on how this diet affects MS in particular. But many studies show that it’s good for you overall and may help lower inflammation.

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Swank Diet

On this low-fat diet, you’ll eat fewer than 15 grams of saturated fat and 20-50 grams of unsaturated fat each day. It’s not a new approach. Roy Swank, MD, PhD, published a study on it in 1970. He reported success, but since the study did not include a comparison group of people with MS who didn’t go on the plan, it’s hard to know how well it truly works.

Are There Nutrients That Help?

No vitamin or mineral can curb MS. Scientists have studied a few, though.

Fish Oil

The research is mixed on whether this helps.

In one small study, a group of people with MS took a teaspoon of fish oil each day with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E. They were also advised to avoid saturated fat and eat a lot of fish and vegetables. After two years, these people were less likely to report new or worsening symptoms, and only 12% of them had relapses.

But in another study, there wasn’t a clear benefit in taking fish oil supplements.

Omega-3s lower inflammation, and they appear to be safe for people with MS. They’re in fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and tuna. If you take supplements, let your doctor know.

Vitamin D

Studies show that people with MS who have higher vitamin D levels are less likely to relapse. But there’s no proof that taking vitamin D prevents MS or curbs MS symptoms in people who already have the condition.

Only a few foods have vitamin D, such as fish and fortified foods such as orange juice, milk, and some alternative milk products (such as soy milk and almond milk). Your body can make vitamin D when you’re in the sunlight. Or you take a supplement.

Vitamin A

One study showed some limited promise, but you would want more research to check those findings before you took it to heart.

That study included about 100 people with MS. Some took high doses of vitamin A for a year. They were able to walk more easily and were better able to use their arms compared to the others. But there was no advantage in terms of relapse and disability.

If you take any supplement, tell your doctor. It’s possible to get too much of some vitamins, including A and D. Those overdoses can cause health problems.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on December 13, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin D: Fact sheet for health professionals.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Diet and Nutrition.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Diet and Multiple Sclerosis.”

American Heart Association: “The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.”

Center for Celiac Research: “Celiac Disease FAQ.”

Mowry, E.  Annals of Neurology, August 2012.

Simpson, S. Annals of Neurology, August 2010.

Grigoriadis, N.  Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, March 2006.

Bitarafan, A.  Archives of Iranian Medicine, July 2015.

Bhargava, P. Contemporary Clinical Trials, November 2014.

Swank, R. Archives of Neurology, November 1970.

Nordvik, I. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, April 2000.

Wergeland, S. Acta Neurological Scandinavica Supplementum, 2012.

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