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How should I change my diet if I have multiple sclerosis (MS)?

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), changing your diet is not something you should attempt to do overnight. Begin gradually, with small changes. First, consult your doctor. You may also wish to consult a registered dietitian about choosing a dietary regimen that is right for you, with follow-up appointments every six to twelve months to help you achieve your dietary goals. You need not give up the foods you love, but if they aren't beneficial to your health, eat them in moderation. Aim for a healthy weight and remember that what you eat will influence the way you feel each day. Be wary of special diets that tempt you with the promise of a magic cure, miracle, or quick fix. Instead, listen to the wisdom of your body.

Roy Swank's low-fat diet is probably the most commonly recommended low-fat diet for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS). Roy Swank, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Neurology at Oregon Health Sciences University, spent five decades researching MS.

The low-fat Swank diet was found to be most beneficial for those who started it early in the disease course or for those who had only mild disability. On the Swank diet, many people with MS did experience less frequent and less severe attacks, less worsening of overall neurological condition, and a decreased death rate. The Swank diet is one of moderation and is considered well-balanced and consistent with generally accepted dietary guidelines. It is believed to pose no nutritional risk for those with MS.

Elaine Koontz
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There is no specific recommended diet for people with multiple sclerosis. It is recommended that you follow the same diet guidelines as other people—focus on whole foods, reduce your intake of added sugars, watch your sodium intake, focus on getting enough fiber and choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

Scientists speculate that vitamin D supplementation might reduce the rate of bone loss and fracture among those with MS and can likely alleviate MS symptoms  Further research is necessary before the scientific community can recommend vitamin D for treatment of MS. However, there are many other good reasons to make sure that you consume enough vitamin D rich foods. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk, cheese, cream, cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, oysters, tuna, fortified cereal, liver and egg yolks.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also under study for treatment of MS. The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for brain development and function. Nerve synapses are rich in DHA. DHA is also one of a family of compounds that participate in the body’s response to inflammation of the brain. For these reasons, it is tantalizing to consider how MS treatment could involve the use of omega-3s. A few studies have looked at this issue, but at this time, no studies have reached conclusions about the safety or effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids on MS. However, like vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids are recommended as part of a healthy diet for everyone. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, lake trout, herring, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans and butternuts.

An RD can help manage side effects of MS, such as swallowing problems, weight gain or weight loss, and malnutrition, as well as the side effects of treatment, such as nausea or vomiting.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.