People who live with MS look for effective approaches to enhance their quality of life. Good nutrition is a fundamental element of health promotion. In fact, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet offers a sense of control when coping with a disease that is considered unpredictable. Moreover, exercising on a regular basis is vital to promoting good health and wellbeing. As to whether diet plays a role in the development or progression of MS, this question has been circling around for several years.
To date, no studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables can help protect against the onset of MS. However, it has been found that 50-75% of individuals with MS do follow some sort of dietary regime and use dietary supplements, such as oils, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition, studies suggest that eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight can help ease symptoms of MS, such as fatigue and constipation, as well as reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases.
A study of almost 7,000 people with MS
In order to gain a better understanding on the role of diet in MS, researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore conducted a study that involved the participation of 6,989 individuals with all types of MS. The study aimed to determine whether individuals suffering from MS could reduce their symptoms by following a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their diet and then they were divided into 5 groups based on how healthy a diet they followed. A healthy diet was considered one that involved eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while eating less processed meat, red meat, desserts, and sugary beverages.
In the study, participants who followed the healthiest diet consumed an average of 1.7 servings of whole grains per day. Those who followed the least healthiest diet consumed an average of 0.3 servings of whole grains per day. Additionally, participants who followed the healthiest diet consumed an average of 3.3 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes per day, while those who followed the least healthiest diet consumed an average of 1.7 servings per day. The researchers then looked over each participant’s lifestyle, including weight, exercise, eating habits, smoking habits, etc. Each participant was also asked to report any MS symptoms or relapses at the time of the study.
Results: Diet made a significant impact
After evaluating the data, the researchers found that participants following the healthiest diet were 20% less likely to experience severe physical disability and 20% less likely to experience severe depression, as opposed to the participants in the group following the least healthy diet. The researchers also took into consideration other factors such as age and duration of MS and still, the results proved to be accurate. Additionally, when looking at factors regarding a healthy lifestyle, the researchers found that participants following the healthiest diet were 50% less likely to experience depression, 40% less likely to experience pain, and 30% less likely to experience severe fatigue, as opposed to the participants in the group following the least healthiest diet.
Do specific diets make a difference?
The study also looked at participants following a specific diet, such as Paleo diet and Wahls diet, which are believed to be beneficial to those with MS. Here, the researchers found that past or current use of such diets was associated with a modest reduced risk of physical disability.
Evidence also suggested that the benefits of the Wahls diet to individuals with MS remains unclear. “People with MS often ask if there is anything they can do to delay or avoid disability, and many people want to know if their diet can play a role, but there have been few studies investigating this. While this study does not determine whether a healthy lifestyle reduces MS symptoms or whether having severe symptoms makes it harder for people to engage in a healthy lifestyle, it provides evidence for the link between the two,” said Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, lead author of the study. Fitzgerald also noted that the results of the study may not be applicable to every individual with MS; however, previous research that was specifically directed at children with MS also found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of experiencing an MS relapse, while a high-fat diet may increase the risk.
More research is necessary, but findings are promising
At this time, research on diet and MS remains limited. Still, it has been found that following a well-balanced diet is essential to gaining all the nutrients needed in order to remain active and healthy. If you have MS, the foods that you eat can have an impact on your symptoms and how your disease progresses. For this reason, knowing which nutrients are right for you can help improve your health, promote healing, and leave you feeling more in control.
So, what types of nutrients can help you manage your symptoms?
- Vitamin A (carrots, sweet potato, leafy greens, butter, eggs)
- Vitamin D (fortified cereal, cheese, mushrooms, eggs)
- Vitamin H or biotin (yeast, sardines, soybeans, cauliflower, bananas)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (fatty fish, walnuts, spinach, flax, canola oil)
What are the most common dietary recommendations for MS?
- Eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
- Eat foods rich in calcium
- Eat foods rich in vitamin D
- Steam, bake or poach foods
- Drink 8-10 glasses of liquids on a daily basis
- Consume low-fat dairy products
- Consume lean cuts of poultry
- Consume a variety of fish at least 2 times a week
- Consume whole-grain breads and foods rich in fiber
- Consume oils and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Avoid saturated fats and trans fats
- Avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages
- Avoid high-doses of vitamin supplements
- Use poly and monounsaturated margarines and oils
- Eat approximately 5-6 meals on a daily basis
- Monitor portion sizes
How should you prepare your meals?
- Cook when you are feeling less tired
- Sit rather than stand to prepare and cook your meals
- Keep your kitchen at a cool temperature
- Organize your kitchen so that your utensils and ingredients are on-hand
- Gather your utensils and ingredients before you start to cook
- Make more use of electronic devices such as mixers and microwaves to help save your energy
- Use ready-prepared foods, such as pre-washed salads and grated cheese
- Make use of a trolley when preparing dishes or serving
- Soak dishes instead of washing them right away
- Consider calling a service that delivers meals to your front door
Whether you are experiencing mild or more severe symptoms, making changes to your diet can help you deal with your condition.
Talk with your doctor before making any changes and see what he or she recommends for your individual situation. Once you have taken into account factors such as cost, convenience and nutritional balance, try adding or removing some foods or supplements from your diet and monitor to see their impact on your MS.
Try it out! You may be surprised at what a difference it can make in how you feel, your symptoms, as well as the progression of your condition.