There seems to be general agreement that achieving and keeping an overall level of good health is very important for people living with multiple sclerosis, or with any chronic illness for that matter. And one way to reach that goal, many will say, is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
It’s at this point, though, that my doubts start to kick in.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am as in favor of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating sensibly as anyone else, but there are far too many ‘Follow this great, heathy diet, buy my book’ deals out there. And not just pushing to the general public, either! These deals are creeping into the field of chronic illnesses, too, with claims like, “I cured my MS with my XYZ diet.”
At best, such claims are apocryphal — they are untested and unproven. At worst, they may be something akin to the ‘this-medicine-cures-all’ claims by charlatans in the days of the Wild West.
What we do know, at the moment, is there is no ‘MS diet’ that cures anything. Although, as the National MS Society (NMSS) in the US says, “what and how you eat can make a difference in your energy level, bladder and bowel function, and overall health.”
The Society also notes: “MS specialists recommend that people with MS adhere to the same low-fat, high-fiber diet recommendations of the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society for the general population.”
Most diet benefits untested
Various diets have been, and still are, promoted as treatments, or even cures, for MS. Sadly, most have not been subjected to rigorous, controlled studies, and the few that have been evaluated have produced mixed results, says the NMSS.
“Most claims made for dietary treatments are based on personal accounts, and reported benefits may be changes that could have happened without any treatment,” it says.
There is some evidence that a diet low in saturated fats and supplemented by Omega-3 (from fatty fishes, cod-liver oil, or flaxseed oil) and Omega-6 (fatty acids from sunflower or safflower seed oil and possibly evening primrose oil) may have some benefit for people with MS. A recent research review paper by Pavan Bhargava, MD, provides information and current evidence for each of the most popular diets.
The worry is, however, that some diets that are supposed to help us may, in fact, be harmful, because they include potentially toxic amounts of certain vitamins, or exclude important nutrients. That’s why it’s important to consult with your healthcare professional before starting any diet that includes nutritional supplements or vitamins.
And if you have any concerns about gluten in your diet, have a look at this: A study published in BMC Neurology reported that selected MS patients and their immediate family members had a higher incidence of gluten intolerance than the general population.
But, the report adds: “That doesn’t mean all MS patients should go gluten-free. The decision to shift to a gluten-free diet, which eliminates all wheat, rye, barley, and triticale foods, should be made on a case-by-case basis.”
Just like everyone, with or without MS!
Ian Franks is Chief Patient Columnist at MultipleSclerosisNewsToday.com. He has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain and uses his skills to write his own flourishing specialist Health & Disability blog at http://www.50shadesofsun.com. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.