This article is part of a series; for the rest of the series, visit Food and MS.
Diet is often considered an alternative therapy for MS, but it is actually a complementary therapy. Medication should not be replaced, but it can often be enhanced by the right dietary program. However, there is no agreement that one diet plan is the best for everyone. MS is an individual disease with a variety of medications, treatments, exercise programs and, of course, dietary and nutritional programs.
Diet refers to whatever you eat. Society has added the part that says diets are intended for losing weight. Then there are special diets that are important because many MSers also live with other chronic diseases. For example, many people have both MS and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis has specific dietary needs that happen to coincide with those of many MSers, for example Vitamin D and fish oils. Still, I am sure there are some chronic conditions with needs that are different or even possibly conflicting. We must remain aware.
A discussion about diet as an alternative therapy looks at specific nutrients and MS. The summary tells us that specific vitamins or minerals may not be as effective as the "impact of a total diet." Let's look at some of the favorite dietary programs for MS.
Swank Low-fat Diet
Last year I wrote about diets and nutrition, especially the holistic Swank Diet that promised a normal life. When I was newly diagnosed, the Swank Diet was the only one I found. The diet is low in fats and red meats, high in grains, fruits and vegetables. Well, that sounds healthy enough. But Swank doesn't stop there. He also adds resting, reducing stress and having a positive attitude! Whether it is said or not, these things should be added to every dietary program.
Dr. Swank said his lifestyle diet may be a challenge to live, but not as challenging as living with MS. The first challenge is a year that eliminates red meat, and that includes no dark meat of chicken and turkey. I had never heard that poultry dark meat is included in red meat, but this diet is very specific. After the first year, the diet relaxes. You can have 3 ounces of red meat every week. Dairy products, both saturated and unsaturated fats, are strictly limited. Vitamins and supplements — especially fish oils — are recommended. This diet is very close to vegan.
This McDougall Diet was developed by Roger McDougall,* a British playwright who was diagnosed with MS in the 1950's. He used the Swank diet as a base, but he went further. He endorses a pre-processing diet, similar to that of the hunters and gatherers in early societies. It led him to the simpler, less processed paleolithic McDougall diet. This diet is gluten and dairy free, low in sugar and animal fats,and makes use of fresh food prepared at home.
The McDougall diet is heavy in specific vitamins. The vitamins might change depending on the individual person's problems with MS. McDougall also presents two dietary programs for weight loss. The first is a 12-day fast-track plan. The second is a Maximum Weight Loss (MWL) plan for people who do not lose enough weight with the fast-track plan.MacDougall died in his 80's, forty years after his diagnosis, symptom free.
MS Recovery Diet
One diet that sounds promising is the MS Recovery Diet, as discussed by Lisa. The recovery diet is intended to stop and reverse MS. This diet points out foods that can trigger symptoms of MS: dairy, grains containing gluten, legumes, eggs and yeast. Recovery Diet recommendations include lean protein, vegetables/fruits, foods rich in antioxidants, raw foods for enzyme support, and probiotics. Like Swank, this diet includes exercise.
The MS Recovery Diet follows a stringent eating plan that helps to alleviate the symptoms. One problem with this diet is not being able to use packaged foods because proscribed items are often included in the ingredients.
Best Bet Diet
And then there's the Best Bet Diet. How could anything sound better than the best bet? It is based on eliminating gluten (wheat, barley and rye products), legumes, dairy products and reducing the amount of yeast and eggs. Also, substitute honey or syrup for refined sugar. Avoid certain proteins that are in the same category as myelin. There are also a number of supplements that are recommended. The main ones are certain form of vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.
Here is what Julie Stachowiak has to say about this diet, and look at her Best Bet, too. Be sure to read the comments on these.
I am sure there are other diet programs designed with MS in mind, but I wanted to talk about the most popular ones. It is clear that recommendations for what to avoid and what to eat are similar in these programs. Selecting one diet over another does not appear to be critical.
Each of the diets has fans who say the diet has helped with symptoms or the total condition. For every fan, however, there are nay-sayers, and we need more research to see if diet has an effect on MS. In order to determine the diet or nutritional supplement that works best for you, keep a dietary journal. Track what and when and how much you eat and how your symptoms respond. If what you are eating makes no difference in the way you feel, then that may not be the diet for you.
If your diet makes you feel good, that may be the diet for you.
"While it is unlikely that a simple diet will be therapeutic in MS, recent data regarding the roles of vitamins such as vitamin D and niacin in maintaining a healthy immune and nervous system suggest that we should pay more attention to nutrition," said Dr. Peter Calabresi, who heads the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.Next time I will talk about nutrition.
Notes and Links:
* I have found the name spelled McDougall and MacDougal. I chose to use the spelling I saw most often.