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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.