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The MS – Food Theories

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Thursday December 12 2013 11:00 AM

There are a lot of “MS diets” and theories about the link between food and MS. Trevis takes a look at the science behind the claims 

The View From Here: Opinions from a Life With MS

My wife and I hosted a group of friends for an American Thanksgiving feast at the end of last month. The conversation turned to Irish food culture and habits verses America’s during the night.  It got me thinking about the topic of MS and diet (or “MS Diets”). So, with the holiday eating season in full swing I thought I’d bring the topic to our new blog community.

There are books and websites and newsletters devoted to everything from “altering” to “overcoming” and even “curing” MS with one diet, supplement, beverage or another.

Generally, the use of diet falls into the category of  “Complementary and Alternative” therapy for MS. If a diet claims to be more than “supportive” or “healthful” when it comes to living with MS, I take exception. The science behind such claims is rarely regulated and often hype outweighs substance.

There are vegetarian diets for MS, Paleolithic diets for MS and juicing diets for MS. I’ve seen diets designed by “noted experts” and by people who say they have all but ended their disease simply by eating one (new) way over their former habitual repast.  

I just don’t buy it.

There is some credible evidence that a diet low in saturated fats and supplemented with both Omega 3 (from fatty fishes, cod-liver oil, or flaxseed oil) and Omega 6 (from sunflower or safflower seed oil and, perhaps, Evening Primrose oil) might just be of benefit to people living with multiple sclerosis, but not much else has been proven.

In other words; the same low-fat diet that most people would find healthy, we find healthy. Food is fuel and it’s important to give the machine that is our body the proper food so that it can do the work of keeping us on course.

I’m not going to say that I don’t feel better when I eat better. In fact, I think that diet and exercise have a great effect on my greater health. I don’t, however, believe that my general diet has much to do with the way the course of my multiple sclerosis will be run.

I firmly believe that a healthy body will maintain and recover better from the slings and arrows that MS will throw than an unhealthy body would. A well balanced diet of loads of veg, some fruits and whole, “real” foods (if you can’t pronounce it; it isn’t real in my book) that is low in overall saturated fats is good for everyone. So, yes, diet is good for people with MS. I don’t know, however, that any diet has been proven to change MS.

A recent study about a particular bacterium in the gut may spark the next wave of MS Diets, but I want to know more about the prevalence and mechanism (and just more, period) about this theory. That’s why I support research both financially when I am able and with advocacy when times are tight. We simply don’t know enough about MS and diet to say for sure.

So, eat a healthy, low-fat diet; exercise more, drink lots of water and stretch. It won’t likely change the battle in which we are all engaged, but it will make us stronger when we meet the enemy.

I look forward to your comments.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.

Cheers

Trevis

You can also follow us via our Life With MS Facebook page, on Twitter and don’t forget to check out TrevisLGleason.com

Author: Trevis Gleason

Tags: ms, healthy, exercise, food, healthy, msdiets, community

Comments

Andrew

Thursday December 12 2013 14:42

There are foods that should be avoided, such as coconut and food additives like palm oil and vegetable oil. It's a shame coconut is a negative for MS patients, because coconut oil is generally believed to be a good oil..

Trevis Gleason

Thursday December 12 2013 15:19

Andrew; Your comment about highly-saturated oils like palm and coconut is, indeed something that seems to be proven by science. The vegetable oil addition, however, is a new one on me. Cleanly processed (rather than reliance on chemical extraction) vegetable oils can be a very healthy source of fats and flavours, to my understanding. As you put them in the category of "food additives", I suspect you're speaking of the hydrogenated versions (bad) found in many processed foods. Thanks for the comment! Cheers

Conor Kerley

Thursday December 12 2013 16:16

Nice article and great to see the topic of nutrition and MS being spoken and written about. I agree with Trevis that curing MS with a diet/supplement/beverage is a far-fetched idea. I also agree that nutritional research (relating to both MS and non-MS topics) can often be over-hyped. This unfortunately is true of medical research also – much to the detriment of well-meaning doctors/clinicians and patients.

However, the overall message of this article appears to be that diet is probably of little or no importance in the course of MS. Trevis is of course entitled to his opinion but I respectfully disagree. Trevis correctly points out that there is some credible evidence for a diet low in saturated fat + omega 3 and 6, but that not much else has been proven. We would do well to remember that absence of proof is not proof of absence, in other words just because evidence proving that diet can help MS is not fully available does not mean that diet can not help MS. There has been very little research into MS and diet. There are many reasons why this research is lacking – maybe nobody wants to give money to find out if diet is important, maybe doctors and researchers are not interested in diet, maybe doctors and researchers think people with MS will not stick to a diet for a research study. Until this research has been done, it is difficult to say whether diet is important or not for MS. However, most existing evidence suggests that diet has great potential to help MS. Further, a well designed diet is a cheap and safe way which empowers people and may prove to be beneficial for overall and MS health. The same can not necessarily be said of certain MS drugs, which are often expensive, have side effects and come with safety issues.

Interestingly, Trevis talks about gut bacteria and potential for ‘new MS diets’. We should remember that our gut is very important in terms of immune health. Further, recent evidence has shown that changing our gut bacteria can influence our entire body, including the brain. Scandanavian researchers showed that switching to a low fat, plant based diet could hugely alter the gut bacteria of people with rheumatoid arthritis and that this was associated with multiple improvements of this autoimmune disease. Could this be the same in MS? Who knows – it hasn’t been studied…yet.

I think the key points regarding MS and diet – some of which Trevis points out - are:
1. A well-designed diet is important for everyone and generally makes everyone, including those with MS feel better.
2. There is some good evidence that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains etc. and low in saturated fats is beneficial in many ways specific to people with MS.
3. Most importantly, the Swank Diet remains ‘the most effective treatment of multiple sclerosis ever reported in the peer review literature’ (Kadoch 2013).

A final point for those who would more information – Professor George Jelinek of overcomingmultiplesclerosis.org and his research team have conducted some great research into lifestyle/diet and MS and their website is a great source of info. The University of Oregon have an excellent trial on diet which is on-going. I myself spoke to one of the lead researchers who says that the results have been excellent and I eagerly await the results of this study. Watch this space…

In health,

Conor

Rachel

Thursday December 12 2013 18:11

This is one of the few areas around MS that I have a really defined opinion. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you've said - the same dietary rules that apply to folks who are not living with MS, apply to us as well. If you eat a heavy meal loaded with simple carbs (think Thanksgiving stuffing) you are going to slip into a food coma. If your energy level is already compromised from MS, you should avoid them and go almost exclusively for complex carbs. This means little to no sugar and little to no white flour. With regard to exercise, 20 minutes is the magic number. It's the point where you can blow through some anxiety and also when accomplished daily, puts you just a smidge under the recommended 150 minutes per week. And lastly, I stick to organic eggs and milk plus grassfed beef - not for reasons specific to MS - but it's healthy all around and I don't need to be inviting any more trouble such as heart disease or diabetes. I've got all the trouble I can handle:)

Andrew

Thursday December 12 2013 19:18

Trevis,

The vegetable oil I spoke of is the processed kind that seems to be in about everything these days. There may be a healthier version of it, but no labels clarify any kind of difference. I used the term 'food additives' because they are added to foods, and couldn't think of any other way of saying it haha.

It seems many foods are out to get us, and by that I mean everybody, not just MS patients.

Trevis Gleason

Thursday December 12 2013 20:31

Conor,
I consider myself a "hopeful skeptic" in most things related to burgeoning MS research. I thank you for comment and hope that research proves your points further. I believe this is an interesting road and, as I said, fund this research though various MS organizations and research institutes. Thanks for proving my original blog's comment that we can "disagree without being disagreeable". Cheers

Elaine

Thursday December 12 2013 23:36

Hi All,
I enjoyed reading the blog and comments. I place great value on the benefit of a well balanced diet with regards to both my general and my MS health. After my diagnosis I tried to research into the types of food that would suit best. As mentioned by Trevis, there is a litany of claims for miracle cures that are not based on any research carried out and as Conor mentioned, it was difficult to find much research based evidence around MS and diet. The two things that I did find repeated and I eventually adjusted was my intake of saturated fat, the removal of dairy from my diet, along with the introduction of omega 3, vitamin D and evening primrose supplements. I'm a year on this diet now and also just over a year on my disease modifying medications. I believe that my diet has a lot to do with how well I'm feeling. Yes you could argue that anyone would feel well on this type of diet but I undoubtedly feel it contributes to the reduction of inflammatory responses involved in the MS disease process therefore increasing my chances of a long healthy symptoms free life.
Elaine

Trevis Gleason

Friday December 13 2013 10:35

Sorry, Conor, Typo:
...we can "disagree without being disagreeable".
Thank all of you for your comments and I look forward to our continued conversations. Cheers

Audrey

Sunday December 15 2013 23:40

Thanks, Trevis, for urging caution on special diets that claim to 'treat' MS. I agree that a normal balanced diet should suffice. The only ingredient that I check the labels for is hydrogenated veg. oil - to avoid. The difficulty with proving scientifically whether or not a particular food helps or not, is that it's impossible to do double blind testing with food! I'm not sure that it will ever be possible to prove that a diet affects MS, in spite of the epidemiological evidence that it might.

Joseph

Monday December 16 2013 23:49

I am glad to see the issue of diet been addressed as I see it we seem to have two different views here one supporting the swank/ mcdougall diet and the other is to eat a balanced diet with everything in moderation with perhaps some minor tweak's.I think the science says diet is the most effective way to slow down MS better than any drug currently available. So the most prudent thing to do would be to adopt the Swank / McDougall diet which if followed should have little or no negative side effects and possibly even slow down or stop MS from progressing.the other option is to eat a conventional western "normal balanced diet " which most people currently eat, which we know does not work very well for a large % of the population who suffer from many complaints almost unheard of 100 years ago and are still almost unheard of in parts of the world where the rich western diet is not available.

Here is a collection of videos about the Swank/ McDougall diet plan and I await with interest the full results from the latest study financed by Dr McDougall http://www.dietisthekey.com/disease/ms-and-roy-swank/

Declan Groeger

Wednesday December 18 2013 12:33

I have tried a few different diets and did nothing but lose weight. I have read up on other diets and for various reasons decided not to try them. I agree that a good diet is good for everyone including people with MS. MS travels a different path for all of us and what works for one Mser will not necessarily work for another. My advice would be to pick a generally healthy diet initially and then tweak it with known positives and negatives for MS. My greatest failing in dietary terms is that I like some of the 'not good' occasionally but the I suspect that most people do. The adage 'all things in moderation' is not correct but 'a little of what you fancy' definitely sounds ok to me.

Elissa

Thursday February 27 2014 16:19

Well said, Trevis. You've eloquently mentioned so many points I've made over the past 9 years, since my own diagnosis. As a Health Coach starting to work with people with MS, I find ways to encourage and support a healthful lifestyle through nutrition. This is only one piece of our complex puzzle, but we do the best we can with what we have! Thanks for your thoughts and I'm looking forward to reading future posts.

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