People with multiple sclerosis should make every effort to preserve their general health. A healthy diet, sufficient rest, establishing priorities to conserve energy, and developing emotional support networks can all be very helpful.
Some dietary suggestions for patients with MS include:
- Drink two quarts of water a day and avoid caffeine-containing beverages, which are actually dehydrating. This helps avoid constipation (although may cause difficulties in patients who also have urge incontinence).
- Eat a diet rich in fiber, particularly from whole grains (especially bran, oats, or flax), fruits (particularly prunes), and vegetables.
- Low-fat diets have not proven to have much effect on MS but are, in any case, generally healthy.
- Fish and fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish, have been associated with protection against inflammation and some reduction in symptoms in people with various autoimmune conditions. Such fatty acids are also available in supplements as docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acids. Standards for optimal amounts and forms of omega-3 fatty acids have not yet been established, however. Some experts recommend that people with MS eat three fish meals a week.
Special diets, such as those that are gluten- or yeast-free, have not shown to have any direct effect on the symptoms or course of MS.
Exercise and Physical and Occupational Therapy
Exercise is an important component in managing MS. An active patient with MS is less likely to develop certain complications, such as bladder and bowel dysfunction, osteoporosis, permanent muscle contractions, ulcerations of the skin, or abnormal blood clotting. MS symptoms can temporarily worsen during physical activity, however, so any program must be planned carefully. A health professional should be consulted to determine the best form of physical activity. One study reported that physical rehabilitation for 3 weeks in a hospital setting was significantly more effective in achieving functional independence than home exercise. It is not known if the same benefits can be achieved with a similar program outside the hospital.
Review Date: 06/10/2006
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, M.D., Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital