The Best Diets for Multiple Sclerosis


Jennifer Warner

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Many diets claim to help or even “cure” multiple sclerosis (MS). But few of them have controlled, scientific studies to back those claims.

Many major health organizations recommend eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This type of diet promotes overall health. It can also provide benefits like boosting energy and fighting fatigue, which are vital when you have MS. Because MS is an immune system disease, eating a nutritious diet to support a healthy immune system can also help.

Check with your doctor before making major changes to your eating pattern or adopting any new diet plan.

A Look at MS-Specific Diets

Low-fat diet. A 1990 study showed that people with MS who followed a very low-fat diet had less decline in disability and lower death rates than those who ate a diet higher in fat. In the study, a low-fat diet meant consuming 20 grams or less of fat a day. Dr. Roy Swank published the study and this low-fat diet bears his name.

Other researchers have not been able to duplicate Swank’s results. But there is some anecdotal evidence that this approach might help you feel better. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation has stated the Swank diet is a well-rounded option for people with MS.

In their book The MS Recovery Diet, Ann Sawyer and Judith Bachrach also favor fat restriction. The authors also claim that five common foods—dairy, grains containing gluten, legumes, eggs, and yeast—set off the symptoms of MS. They say that avoiding these and other potential triggers of MS can stop the symptoms. They do note that there has been no gold-standard research to explore all facets of the diet, so they don’t know for sure that the diet will help.

Diet with healthy fats. Some small studies suggest that there may be benefits from a diet that's low in saturated fats but includes healthy unsaturated fats. This includes omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. Omega-6 fatty acids found in sunflower oil, safflower oil, and some nuts are also healthy fats. However, a 2007 review of research on unsaturated fats and MS shows more study is necessary to confirm any benefits.

Antioxidants for MS. Antioxidants are substances found in foods that help protect cells from free radical damage. Research has linked free radical damage to many diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. There is also some limited evidence that it may also be involved in MS.

A few studies in animals suggest that antioxidant supplements may help MS. But researchers have not confirmed the safety and benefits of taking them for people with MS. Some antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, can stimulate the immune system. This might be dangerous when your immune system is already overactive. That’s why getting your daily dose of antioxidants from food is a better idea. Pick foods such as richly colored fruits and vegetables.

Eat to Fight Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. Poor eating habits, like skipping meals or eating a lot of fast food, can add to the problem by affecting your energy levels.

Choose foods that provide nutrition rather than empty calories to help maintain high energy. Healthy snacks that boost energy can be tasty, too. Try your own trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, and whole-grain dry cereal; raw vegetables with low-fat dip; and yogurt layered with fruit and granola.

Key Takeaways

  • No specific diet has been widely proven to help MS, but a low-fat, high-fiber diet makes healthy sense.

  • Limit unhealthy saturated and trans fats and focus on healthy unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids found in fish and nuts.

  • Eat at least five servings a day of colorful fruits and vegetables.

  • Check with your doctor before adopting any new diet plan.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 18, 2018

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Medical References

  1. Food for Thought -- MS and Nutrition. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  2. Bhargava P. Diet and Multiple Sclerosis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  3. Zhang S, Willett W, Hernan M, et al. Dietary Fat in Relation to Risk of Multiple Sclerosis Among Two Large Cohorts of Women. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2000;152(11):1056-64.
  4. Multiple Sclerosis. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  5. Sawyer A and Bachrach J. The MS Recovery Diet. Penguin Publishing Group; 2007:1-416.
  6. Farinotti M, Vacchi L, Simi S, et al. Dietary Interventions for Multiple Sclerosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Dec 12;12:CD004192.
  7. Diet & Nutrition. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  8. Swank RL and Dugan BB. Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis. Lancet. 1990;336(8706):37-39.
  9. The Swank Low-Fat Diet for the Treatment of MS. Swank MS Foundation. 

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