*** This is a detailed report. ***
Look for a helpful summary and pocket-notes at the end of this post to get the essential nuggets of our research.
There’s no arguing – what we eat makes a difference in our health and wellbeing – especially when living with an auto-immune disorder like MS. Following the right diet can make a huge improvement in our experience of day-to-day symptoms. But what diet to follow? There is a dizzying array of recommendations and specially developed diets that claim to be “The One” diet that alleviates all MS symptoms. As you’ll here us at MS My Way say over and over again, every person with MS is different and different solutions work for different people. We say that the option that works for you is the one that fits into your life the best. If you have a good primary care doc or naturopath, you can review these options with them and make a wholistic and strategic choice that fits into your personal Formula for Success.
One thing we feel is important to address right upfront is that following a restricted diet of any kind is challenging. It can be expensive, socially isolating and inconvenient. It makes it hard to eat out in restaurants, to eat food cooked by others at dinner parties, and it requires that we do a lot of our own cooking, food prep and meal planning. Restrictive diets are often considerably more expensive than even a relatively healthy unrestricted diet, primarily because almost all of them straight-away cut out basic carbs, starches, and processed foods. One basic principal between all of them is to eat high-quality, clean food. What does that mean? It means organic, locally produced, unprocessed, more expensive food. Cooking and meal-planning are learned skills that not everybody has, but they are fundamental to a healthy diet. So if that’s a barrier for you, it might be worth taking some cooking classes at your local co-op or community college.
The social/relational aspect involved with following a restrictive diet cannot be ignored. When I first started tinkering with adjustments to my diet I faced teasing from co-workers and house-mates, derision and hostility from family members, and my own internal negativity. The number one indicator of success with any one of these diets is having a supportive domestic environment and buy-in from caretakers. That’s because the second indicator of success with any of these diets is discipline and consistency. Food is hella basic: making changes to our eating habits can be inherently stressful. And it’s easy for following one of these diets to become more of a source of stress and anxiety than the benefits that we are hoping to gain from them.
But the potential rewards are high. These diets are medically sound, well-researched, and provide consistent results. So it’s worth putting in a sincere effort. Consult with your primary care provider. Assemble your support network and begin care with a mental health care provider prior to starting a new diet. Move strategically. Be gentle with yourself. Be willing to take imperfect action. Celebrate incremental success. The two basic healing strategies that a specialty diet should address are: providing the body with high-quality nutrition to help the body return to homeostasis, and suppression of chronic inflammation.
covered by Virginia Rose
Dr Terry Wahls is a medical doctor experiencing MS herself. Her Ted Talk, “Minding Your Mitochondria” tells the story of her own dramatic physical recovery from severe debilitation in a tilt-recline wheelchair back to robust health and physical ability. Her strategy was based on two fundamental assumptions: one, that MS could be treated through addressing specific nutrient deficiencies and second, that it would be more affective to find those missing vitamins in fresh food than in processed pills. She began to experiment on her self using those two basic assumptions, and she achieved dramatic success. She has since dedicated her entire medical practice to the research and treatment of MS through diet and nutrition. Her book, Wahls Protocol, is a user-friendly manual that details everything you might need to follow this diet.
Dr Wahls has designed her diet with Three Levels of restriction. Level one is an invitation simply to add more greens and veggies, and generally improve the quality of your diet without imposing any restrictions. It’s the basic 80:20 principle, which says to make at least 80% of what you eat high-quality, organic, more veggies than meat, and that other 20% whatever you want. This is a great place to start, and really, asks only that you increase the quantity of green veggies, other veggies, and fruit that you eat, and consider cutting out gluten and dairy. Level two restricts corn, rice (the starchiest grains), and dairy. And insists that we eat 9 cups of greens, 3 cups of other veggies, organ meats and small ocean fish every day. It still includes sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, wild rice, and other ancient grains. Level three is to aim for full ketosis, which is essentially a fasting diet. This restricts all carbs and most fruits, and consists primarily of leafy greens of all kinds, both raw & cooked, high-quality meats & organ meats, small fish, unsaturated plant fats, and limited berries & citrus. Ketosis is achieved by starving the body of carbs so it starts to burn fat instead for the production of energy. This also kicks our immune systems into a high-gear healing state that can dramatically speed healing and recover. On the downside, when the body is burning all of that fat, it is also releasing whatever chemicals and hormones the body was storing in those fat cells, which, in some cases, can become toxic. Ketosis should always be used strategically, ideally under supportive medical supervision.
Personally I live most of my life somewhere between Level 1 and Level 2 of the Wahls Protocol, and I use Level 3 as a periodic cleans to bring me back to stasis when things get wonky.
- get nutrition from food, not from processed vitamins
- 9 cups of vegetables, greens, 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables
- colorful food, berries
- anti-biotic herbs, including
ginger, rosemary, lemon, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper
- avoid gluten & dairy, avoid starchy/high carb foods,
- avoid beans unless they’re sprouted
- organ meat (vit d, b12)
- omega3 fatty acids: small fish (fish oil), creotein, enzyme Q
- seaweed (iodine, selenium)
- species variety
Claims: significant reversal of advanced symptoms, stops advancement of the disease.
General Thoughts About Ketosis:
Ketosis can be a useful tool for treatment of acute symptoms (it is also used to support cancer patients though chemo & radiation therapy); it is generally best in short strategic bursts, it is essentially a fasting diet that kicks the immune system into high-gear. Ketosis can definitely produce ammonia (which can cause insomnia) and/or create a toxic situation in the body. Ketosis is ideally done with medical supervision and in tandem with some cleanse protocol to manage any latent toxosis.
Covered by Candice Elmore – read Candice’s full report here
Dr. Roy Laver Swank, first Head of Neurology at what is now Oregon Health & Science University (died November 16, 2008). Dr. Swank was best known for his advocacy of a low-fat diet for multiple sclerosis. His research showed that saturated fat is tolerated much differently and more poorly in folks with multiple sclerosis. He interviewed and examined about 3500 patients and maintained contact with about 2,000 of those patients for +10 years, some as long as 35 years. He found consistent, reliable results that patients who adhered faithfully to the diet had no advancement of the disease while they remained on the diet.
One component that the Swank treatment addresses is his observation of a vascular component to MS. A low-fat, high-fiber diet keeps the blood thinner and more viscous, which helps is move through the vessels of our bodies more smoothly. As any of us with ms has experience, we can start to feel sluggish and heavy. This can be a symptom of our blood being too thick and our heart having to move harder to push it though our bodies. When this happens, we can become overloaded with minerals and the fluids of our bodies can start to become stagnant. So
Dr Swank also investigated the definite trend of MS to occur in northern climates with less exposure to sun. This pointed towards vitamin d deficiency. Observing that the one social group in Northern climates who reliably did not contract ms was fishing communities that consumed high amounts of Cod Liver Oil, Dr Swank included cod liver oil into his diet.
Another aspect of multiple sclerosis that Dr Swank’s research sheds light on is the co-occurrence of mental health illness with MS, especially depression and anxiety. Specifically, he talked observed correlations between stressful family environments and severity of ms symptoms. These mental health illnesses can all be linked back to essential vitamin deficiency, and treatment of either mental health or physical symptoms often correlates with improvement of both.
- No red meat for 1 year
- After 1 year, can have 3 oz red meat 1x/week
- No dairy
- No processed foods, especially any food containing saturated fats
- Have no more than 1tbs saturated fat/day
- Have at least 4 tbs of UNsaturated fat/day
- Have 1tsp Cod Liver Oil and 1 multi-vitamin every day
Claims: stops advancement of the disease, reduction in frequency exacerbations, increased stability, general suppression of symptoms.
covered by Sandee Hess
Natalie Butler is a registered dietitian nutritionist whose Auto-Immune Paleo protocol has become cannon for the treatment of auto-immune diseases. It’s hard to define one specific author for this diet though, it seems to be something is emerging from the modern Medical Nutrition Field. Elimination diets can be especially challenging to follow and stick to, because they stat with butting out almost everything. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this diet unless they have a very stable environment, sincere buy-in from caretakers and supportive medial supervision.
A-I P protocol is similar to both Swank (low-fat) and Wahls (paleo). It focuses on addressing gut issues, specifically leaky gut syndrome, suppressing chronic inflammation in the body, and support the micro-biome of the gut.
- No Nightshades
(they cause inflammation – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco)
- No Dairy (especially cow dairy)
- No Grains (especially gluten)
- No Eggs
- 1st Week Only:
- olive oil
- fermented foods (saure kraut, kimche, etc)
- honey/maple syrup
- all (non-nightshade) vegetables – greens, squash, roots
- all low-fat proteins (no eggs)
- After 1st week, re-introduce specific foods at a rate of 1 new food per week,
carefully observe all reactions
Claims: general healing & control of all auto-immune symptoms.
covered by Sandee Hess
Are you feeling overwhelmed or daunted by the logistical challenges of following any one of these diets? Do you struggle with compulsive eating or are you overweight to a point that is uncomfortable for you? Weight Watchers is now Weight Watchers Wellness, an organization focused on wellness first. Whether we have a supportive domestic environment or not, we can all benefit from some additional support and positive accountability in our lives. Weight Watchers is a flexible program that can be adapted to serve any diet protocol. Using the points program helps to gain understanding of the nutritional content of our daily foods. Weekly meetings give positive accountability, community involvement and support. If you’re looking for a positive way to bring structure to your diet decisions, Weight Watcher can be a cheerleader in your corner.
At first blush, the variety of possible diets for treating MS can seem be overwhelming. But after researching all of these options, there are strong themes that they all agree on (see pocket notes below). The best fit for you depends a lot on your situation – are you trying to reverse acute symptoms, or just maintain a healthy status quo? The more aggressive we are, the more strain it will cause in all other parts of our lives (and pocketbooks). But in general, investing in quality nutrition provides a 100% return on investment in improved quality of live.
Starting with small, incremental changes is a great way to start. Try just increasing your daily vegetable intake, and maybe reduce gluten and dairy. Look for positive feedback loops. Trust yourself. Let your body tell you what it wants (unless it’s just screaming for unsaturated fat and sugar – in that case, try re-directing it with an overload of cooked greens smothered in olive oil). Learn to know when you’ve eaten the right foods for your body by observing your experience of symptoms. In the end, you are the expert on what works and doesn’t work.
Our hope is to create a helpful overview of this topic with enough links to be a helpful resource for anyone making decisions about tailoring their diet for the treatment of MS. Please post your comments, experience, or any helpful input in the comments below!
Diet for MS: Pocket Notes
- 80:20 for maintaining sanity
- What To Eat
- Organic is Good (don’t eat pesticides)
- More Greens & Vegetables are Good
- Bone Broth is Good
- Unsaturated Fats (cod liver oil, olive oil) Are Good
- Anti-Biotic/Anti-Viral Herbs: ginger, rosemary, lemon, curcumin, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, black pepper
- Berries (especially blueberries & cranberries)
- What Not To Eat:
- Processed Foods & Saturated Fats
- Dairy (especially cow) – milk is for babies, wrong species, dairy industry, promotes/is a carrier of viral infections, high in saturated fats, deficient in unsaturated fats
- Gluten – low nutrient content, auto-immune trigger
- Nightshades – potato, tomato, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, promotes inflammation
- What To Eat In Moderation (if you’re not trying to be in Ketosis)
- All Non-Gluten Grains (sprouted always better)
- All Beans & Legumes (sprouted always better)
- Starchy Vegetables (squash, yams, sweet potatoes, roots)
- All Sweets & Sugars (honey, maple syrup, all fruits)
- Ketosis controversy – be strategic, don’t let it drive you crazy
- Viral load – 40% more likely to get MS if you have had mononucleosis
- anti-viral herbs!
- Supportive domestic partners
- Correlation with Northern Latitudes & Depression
- Cod Liver Oil
- Vit D
- Mental Health Care
- Gut Biome – pro-biotics
Compiled & edited by Virginia Rose, with research & writing contributions from Candice Elmore and Sandee Hess