News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Healthy eating can improve MS symptoms, but societies won’t endorse any one diet

Multiple sclerosis organisations around the world back the idea that eating a healthy diet can help people with the disease. But they are refusing, correctly in my view, to get behind any one diet.

dietA new study, published in Neurology, says that eating a healthy diet may be linked with reduced disability and fewer MS symptoms. Such a diet would include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

I have never attributed any importance to people saying that diet cured them of MS. In fact, it’s nothing short of hogwash. But that’s not to say that diet cannot help, just that it is not a cure by itself.

There are a number of dietary plans for which claims are sometimes made, and about which strong views are held. These include the Swank and Overcoming MS diets. Supporters of Swank, for example, believe it can reduce the frequency of flare-ups and lessen the severity of symptoms.

However, the US’s National MS Society and the UK’s MS Society say there is not enough evidence to recommend any one diet.

The authors of the new study, led by Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, acknowledges that there is a lack of evidence on the potential influence that diet may have on MS symptoms.

Fitzgerald works in the Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She says: “People with MS often ask if there is anything they can do to delay or avoid disability. Many people want to know if their diet can play a role, but there have been few studies investigating this.”

Severe disability 20% less likely

To examine the role that diet may play in MS, Fitzgerald’s team looked at questionnaires completed by 6,989 people with MS as part of the North American Research Committee registry.

The team found that people in the group with the most healthy diet were 20% less likely to have more severe physical disability than people in the group with the least healthy diet.

Fitzgerald adds: “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.”

The authors acknowledged that the study has two limitations:

·         First, participants were mostly older white people who had been diagnosed with MS for an average of 20 years. So, although people with all types of MS were included, the findings might not apply to everyone with the disease.

·         Second, the study’s design does not provide an insight into whether healthy diets might influence MS symptoms in the future.

What can a diet do for someone with MS? In my opinion, about the same as it can do for someone without the disease; a balanced diet helps to achieve and maintain a healthy level of fitness. But it is not a cure and never can be; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.


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