Best Diet for MS Patients
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong autoimmune condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. This condition can potentially lead to disability. Other conditions can occur along with MS, such as cerebral diseases, osteoporosis, depression, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, and other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and diabetes. MS is one of the most common causes of disability in young adults from age 20 onwards. However, it can develop at any age. It is also twice as common in women than men, people of Caucasian descent, and people with lower vitamin D levels, mainly due to limited sunlight exposure.
Multiple Sclerosis results from the immune system attacking the myelin sheath (the protective fatty sheath that protects nerves), leading to permanent damage or death of brain cells and nerves. This causes problems for the brain in communicating information to the rest of the body, leading to the symptoms often seen in MS.
So, what kind of diet is the best and safe for MS patients? Read on to find out.
Symptoms of MS
The symptoms seen in MS depend on the amount of nerve damage, where the nerve damage happened, and what nerves have been affected. Some people might have some movement problems with either their arms or legs or both. Those with more severe symptoms may lose their ability to walk independently.
The most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis are:
- Difficulty walking/inability to walk independently (without aid)
- Slurred speech
- Incontinence (issues with bladder control)
- Issues with the function of sex organs
- Visual problems (partial loss, complete loss, double vision, blurred vision)
- Muscle spasms and stiffness
- Tingling sensations or shock-like sensations (Lhermitte sign)
- Numbness usually in the limbs (legs or arms) and on one side of the body
- Cognitive problems (thinking, problem-solving, planning)
- Issues with balance, coordination, and gait
There is no cure for MS. Most of the treatment for MS is centered around slowing the progression of the disease, speeding recovery, and managing symptoms.
Recommended Diet for Patients with MS
There is not much evidence of a particular diet being an option for treatment, cure, or prevention for MS. It is recommended that someone with MS consumes a healthy diet. People with MS require a healthy high fiber, low-fat diet with as many unprocessed or naturally processed foods as possible. The best diet for MS patients are foods that are low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The following types of foods can help with managing symptoms of MS.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
MS patients should include natural fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, almond butter, and fatty fish (such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, and herring) into their diet. These are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Naturopathic healers often recommend turmeric for a lot of different conditions and ailments. The main ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is believed to protect nerve cells, help boost the immune system, and have anti-inflammatory purposes. You can cook turmeric with pretty much everything, from vegetables to whole grain rice, and even make it into a turmeric tea (golden milk). It's available in powder form or capsules. Curcumin is safe but can cause side effects if mixed with some medications, so consult your doctor first.
Eating more vegetables can provide people with MS with loads of antioxidants that help to ease inflammation, prevent relapses of attacks, and boost digestion. Garlic can be a good food source to calm immune system responses (attacks) and reduce muscle pain commonly seen in MS.
Green Tea is good to help with symptoms of MS, mainly muscle weakness and fatigue. It also helps ease inflammation, improve the cognitive symptoms of MS, and boost the immune system.
Lean proteins such as skinless chicken, beans, and lentils are high in folate and fiber, which can help reduce MS attacks.
The magnesium and iron found in whole grains are believed to possibly slow down MS symptoms.
People with MS are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, leading to weaker bones that are more prone to break from falls or accidents. Hence, it is also recommended that people with MS keep their vitamin D levels up as it can help with reducing the risk of osteoporosis. vitamin D can also help reduce inflammation. The most natural way to get vitamin D is from sunlight which helps our skin make the nutrient. However, some foods are high in vitamin D, including oily fish (such as those mentioned above), eggs, cereals, concentrated orange juice, and yogurt.
What Foods to Avoid
Some foods or consumables can worsen MS symptoms or lead to attacks. MS patients should avoid or limit having the following in their diet.
Alcohol is one of the consumables to avoid for people with MS. It can lead to more intense symptoms such as worsening issues with coordination and gait.
Processed Foods, Saturated Fats, and Carbs
People with MS should avoid processed foods or foods high in saturated fats and carbohydrates. These foods can lead to weight gain, leading to other health concerns such as respiratory or cardiac problems and stress on the joints.
A few studies suggest that proteins in dairy products can irritate the immune system, which can worsen MS symptoms. However, other studies have shown that dairy products are not related to worsening MS symptoms. We suggest talking to your doctor first before you make a decision about cutting out dairy.
Lifestyle Tips for MS Patients
MS is a difficult condition to live with and manage. Many people with MS experience depression and anxiety along with their MS symptoms. Hence, people with MS must incorporate lifestyle choices that can boost their physical and mental wellbeing.
People living with MS can try incorporating more daily physical activity, such as exercise and yoga. They can also try relaxation techniques through meditation and massage.
People with MS should avoid smoking as much as possible. It has been linked to relapsing-remitting MS (a type of MS). It can also worsen any symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Lastly, some research from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that oral cannabis extract (OCE) may be effective in reducing pain and improving muscle spasticity in MS. Talk to your doctor before taking OCE for pain management.
- Healthline (Going Herbal: Vitamins and Supplements for Multiple Sclerosis)
- WebMD (10 Best Foods for MS)
- NHS (Treatment, Multiple sclerosis)
- Mayo Clinic (Multiple sclerosis)
- Mayo Clinic (Is there a multiple sclerosis diet?)
- NCBI - National Center for Biotechnology Information (Comorbidity in Multiple Sclerosis)