Why Diet Makes a Difference When You Have MS

How diet can help you improve energy levels and how to make changes to your diet safely.

A bag of healthy groceries.

If you are one of the millions of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you've probably experienced fatigue at some point or another. Fatigue is the most common symptom of MS—according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Association, 80 percent of people with MS experience fatigue, which can make everyday life a challenge and keep you from doing the things you enjoy.

Your energy levels are an important topic to discuss with your healthcare providers and may be closely related to another topic that is important to discuss with your healthcare providers—the foods you eat.

While there is no diet that is prescribed for people with MS, some research shows that if you are living with MS, diet is an important part of your health.

According to a small, yearlong study by Oregon Health and Science University, people with relapsing-remitting MS (the most common form of MS) experienced significantly less fatigue when following a plant-based, low-fat diet of starches, fruits, and vegetables (no meat, fish or dairy). They also achieved healthier cholesterol levels and healthier insulin levels.

While this is one study, and more research is needed to understand the relationship between MS and nutrition, it does highlight how focusing on diet can benefit your health, energy levels, and how you cope with MS.

Should you switch to a plant-based diet?

The participants in the study mentioned above followed a plant-based diet and you may be wondering if a similar diet would work for you.

It’s important to remember that the participants were following this diet under the guidance of healthcare providers—and if you are planning on making any changes to your diet, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare providers first. Limiting or restricting foods—such as cutting out all meat and dairy—can lead to nutritional imbalances, which can result in lower energy levels, more fatigue, and can make MS symptoms worse.

While there is no specific diet recommended for people with MS, there are foods healthcare providers recommend for people with MS—as well as foods they recommend people with MS avoid.

People with MS are advised to eat a diet built around whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean proteins, plant proteins (like beans and lentils), fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), foods fortified with vitamin D, pro- and prebiotic foods, and plenty of water. People with MS should limit their intake of sodium, added sugars, unhealthy fats (saturated fats, trans fats, fats from animal products), processed foods, red meat, and alcohol.

Remember, everyone's health is different, and your best source of information about your health will be your healthcare providers. You may also want to consider working with a registered dietitian who can help you build a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs—and includes plenty of the foods you like to eat.

Article sources open article sources

National MS Society. "Multiple Sclerosis FAQs."
Cleveland Clinic. "Multiple Sclerosis: Fatigue."
National MS Society. "Fatigue."
Mayo Clinic. "Is there a multiple sclerosis diet?"
Vijayshree Yadav, Gail Marracci, et al. "Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial." Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, 2016. Vol. 9.
Ilana Katz Sand. "The Role of Diet in Multiple Sclerosis: Mechanistic Connections and Current Evidence." Current Nutrition Reports, 2018. Vol. 7, No. 3.
Paolo Riccio and Rocco Rossano. "Nutrition Facts in Multiple Sclerosis." ASN Neuro, 2015. Vol. 7, No. 1.
Alberto Molano. "Study Indicates Possible Correlation Between Nutritional Status, MS." Multiple Sclerosis New Today. February 25, 2019.
Jon Johnson. "Multiple sclerosis (MS) diet tips." Medical News Today. May 29, 2019.Multiple Sclerosis News Today. "Healthy Eating and MS: Foods to Eat and Avoid."

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