Although following a healthy, nutritious diet should be a cornerstone of anyone’s health, there’s as yet no strong evidence that dietary factors can help or hinder the progress of multiple sclerosis.
However, many people do decide to make some dietary changes when they’re diagnosed with MS, as there’s anecdotal evidence that certain foods and eating habits can make a positive difference. Always discuss a new diet with your doctor or dietician before embarking on it.The following are some foodstuffs and diets that may offer some help in people with MS:
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Findings remain mixed as to whether a diet low in saturated fat, but plentiful in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, can fight MS. The Swank Diet is a well-known diet low in saturated fats that some have recommended for MS patients: it too has produced mixed research results. That said, such diets won’t do any harm and will likely do you good whether they improve MS symptoms or not: reducing saturated fat and aiming for a balance of fatty acids is now a standard dietary recommendation for everyone, especially with regard to reducing risk for heart disease. Most of us get sufficient omega-6 fatty acids, but need more omega-3, either in supplement form or in foods. Good food sources include fatty fish like mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, trout and sturgeon; fish oils (cod liver oil, salmon oil, tuna fish oil); plant oils (e.g. flaxseed, canola, walnut, soya); and omega-3 enriched eggs, milk, bread and margarine.
Vitamin D. Some studies have linked a lack of the “sunshine vitamin” with more severe MS symptoms. Researchers have wondered about this aspect because our bodies manufacture vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, and MS has higher prevalence in areas further from the equator that don’t get a great deal of sunlight.
It’s a good idea (for everyone, not only people with MS) to have their vitamin D levels tested. If yours are low, then ask your doctor about whether you should be taking a supplement, and in what quantities. Remember it can be detrimental to take overly high doses of supplements. Good sources of vitamin D in the diet include cod liver oil; fatty fish (e.g. herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout, tuna); eggs and cheese.
High fruit and veg diet. Some diets like the Wahls Diet emphasise the importance of eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Again, there’s insufficient evidence from formal scientific studies that this will specifically fight MS, but the many general health benefits of a diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables are well established.
Gluten-free diet. Cutting out gluten (found in wheat and certain other grains, and thus many breads and baked goods) has gained popularity as a dietary recommendation for MS. But there’s no formal scientific evidence that it helps people with MS; currently it’s only medically accepted as a diet for patients with coeliac disease.
The bottom-line is that, although following a nutritious diet is extremely beneficial for health generally, there’s no clear evidence yet as to how your diet may or may not affect MS. Research is ongoing.