Diets for MS
How different food plans could affect your disease
by Aviva Patz
Eat a Mediterranean diet to lose weight and move better! Eat keto to ease fatigue! Try intermittent fasting for emotional well-being!
People have long touted a variety of diets as a treatment or cure for multiple sclerosis, but the evidence behind them has been limited.
Now, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Nutrition Wellness Subgroup, a team of experts who study lifestyle factors in MS, have taken a hard look at the impact of diet on MS to get some answers. In their analysis, presented at the 2021 Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) Annual Meeting, they reviewed existing studies on dietary interventions in MS through 2020 and provided guidance meant to inform and empower.
“It’s easy to get the wrong impression when you read one small study,” says Kathleen Zackowski, PhD, associate vice president of research with the Society.
“So, we wanted to review the literature and provide a practical, take-home message: What does this mean for you?”
Read on to learn highlights of the findings and how your daily menu could be affecting your MS.
Results of the studies
After analyzing 16 studies, the researchers found no one-size-fits-all diet for MS. “We know diet and MS are linked,” Zackowski says. “We just don’t know which dietary factors are critical to affecting the disease.”
Instead, particular features of diets may be important.
For example, a study on salt intake found that people with a high-salt diet had more relapses than those on a low-salt diet, and people with MS following a low-salt diet saw improvements in symptoms.
“It’s too soon to say sodium is bad for MS, but it’s a clue,” Zackowski says.
Similarly, obesity increases the odds of getting MS and speeds disease progression, according to Zackowski, and “that suggests that something about a high-fat diet
Beyond the impact of the diet on your body is your ability to follow it consistently. “Maybe the best diet is one you can stick to long-term,” Zackowski adds. It should also be affordable; you should be able to shop at any grocery store or grow the foods yourself.
Why it’s important
There’s a lot of empirical evidence that people say they feel better when they’re on a healthy diet, according to Zackowski. The inverse is also true.
“We know that MS disability can accrue over time,” Zackowski explains. “If people gain weight, it’s harder to move. So having a healthy diet can often help people stay a healthy weight.”
“We also know that MS affects emotional health,” she adds. “Having a healthy diet low in fat is one thing you can do to optimize your physical and emotional health.”
Besides potentially minimizing your MS symptoms, eating a healthy diet can put you in the best possible position to receive new treatments. “Companies are looking for people who are otherwise healthy to be in their study,” Zackowski says.
Conclusions of the studies
Diet is clearly a factor that could address MS — researchers just don’t know exactly how. It’s also unclear whether the diets that have been studied will benefit everyone with MS equally.
“We probably all have some foods that affect us differently than someone else,” Zackowski explains. “It’s going to come down to a personalized medicine approach. We have to know enough about each person’s biology and their environment to determine which foods will provide the greatest benefit.”
Until we know more, Zackowski recommends a diet low in processed foods and rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, like the one recommended by the American Heart Association.
“A good, healthy diet is something you can do right now for optimum wellness with MS,” she says, “even before we have all the answers.”