Has our faith in Western medicine completely faded? Although one would hope that treatments for Multiple Sclerosis are ever-improving, lately I have heard time and again that individuals with the disease have abandoned Western medicine altogether in favor of diet, exercise, and marijuana. One recent supplement fad for MS is Evening Primrose oil. I have personally chosen Gilenya for the time being, but I see no point in excluding natural and healthy treatments that apparently work so well for others. Cannabis use with MS has already been covered recently. While I intend to cover the evolving family of alternative therapies in future posts, right now we will focus how to treat Multiple Sclerosis with diet.
Every doctor, and most individuals currently using Copaxone, interferons, Tysabri, or Gilenya will be happy to tout the benefits of getting started on a therapy and adhering to it faithfully. There is evidence that available therapies do work.
What are some benefits of not taking traditional MS disease modifying drugs? For starters, some individuals with Multiple Sclerosis don’t have insurance and may not qualify for SSDI, SSI, Medicaid, Medicare, or other assistance. Some individuals may live far from or be unable to afford a neurologist. Some individuals may suspect they have MS and may want to prevent progression of the disease even if they have not received a definitive diagnosis. It cannot be ignored that every current treatment for Multiple Sclerosis has a variety of serious side effects (I’ve experienced some on Rebif and on Gilenya). Some of us may not be able to tolerate currently available traditional therapies. Some individuals may want to use diet and exercise in addition to traditional therapies.
Unlike current MS therapies, no diet or vitamin has been proven to alter the course of Multiple Sclerosis. The correlation between diet and MS is not understood. Some studies have indicated a possible link between butter, cream, milk and relapses. Other studies have indicated a possible benefit from fatty fish consumption. While the diets below are specifically recommended by some individuals for MS, be aware that some quantities of supplements may be too great, and some diets too restrictive to be healthy. At their core, these diets closely resemble the recommended diet for American adults.
Exercise, on the other hand, has been proven to be beneficial to those of us with Multiple Sclerosis. Studies indicate it may reduce relapses and overall disability and progression of the disease. Additionally, regular exercise improves heart health, physical strength, bladder and bowel function, fatigue, depression, and attitude. While it may be difficult to overcome fatigue to be able to exercise initially, recent research shows that if you can push through the first 10 minutes, you will feel better. Exercising in a pool will help with heat if you are easily overheated. Yoga can be done anywhere and has been proven to help with overall spasticity. Sounds simple, right? It is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Do your best.
Now, onto the diets.
The Swank Diet is 60 years old and is probably the most well-known diet for Multiple Sclerosis at this time. Before there were treatments for MS, Dr. Roy Swank treated the disease with this diet. To follow this diet you must consume less than 3 teaspoons of saturated fat and between 4 and 10 teaspoons unsaturated fat daily. Not all oils are allowed, but olive oil and canola oil are commonly used. Only fat-free or non-fat dairy is allowed, plus up to 3 eggs weekly. Whole grains are encouraged, but pastry and commercially-prepared foods are not allowed. Mayonnaise is banned. You may drink up to 3 caffeinated drinks and no more than 1 alcoholic drink daily. Nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, and fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, sardines, and herring are welcome, but they must count toward your oil limit. You are encouraged to eat all fruit, a variety of vegetables, white meat from turkey and chicken, all white fish, and all shellfish. For the first year red meat, including pork, is banned — afterward this is allowed 2 ounces at a time. Additionally, the diet includes supplements of 1 tsp cod liver oil, a multivitamin, 1000 mg vitamin C, and 400 iu vitamin E.
Yes, it’s actually called The Best Bet Diet and is remarkably similar to The Swank Diet and the Paleolithic Diet. The Best Bet Diet cuts all dairy, grains, legumes, eggs, yeast, red meat, dark meat from chicken and turkey, trans-fatty acids, and margarine. You are allowed no more than 60 grams daily of monosaturated or polyunsaturated oil and no more than 15 grams of saturated fat daily. The Best Bet Diet encourages supplements such as Vitamins A, C, E, B and D as well as Fish or Krill Oil, Flax Oil, Zinc, Selenium, and Echinacea Goldenseal. To strengthen the blood brain barrier, this diet encourages consumption of blueberries, cherries, blackberries, and grapes – the following supplements can also be used – Bilberry, Grape Seed Extract, and Pycnogenol. Fish and skinless breast of chicken and turkey are welcome as are fruits, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and unrefined sunflower oil.
The least restrictive diet I will mention here is The Mediterranean Diet. This diet is not very specific but encourages fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, sesame seeds, nuts, and wine in moderation. The Mediterranean Diet discourages saturated fat, red meat, and dairy.
Fair warning – if you follow the Terry Wahls Diet you will have to eat a LOT. The theory behind this diet is that we must eat what our cells need. This diet includes a daily requirement (preferably all raw) of at least 3 cups of green leafy vegetables, 3 cups of sulphur-rich vegetables (cabbage, onion, asparagus, mushrooms), and 3 cups of brightly colored vegetables and berries. Grain and legumes are allowed only twice weekly. The Wahls Protocol bans dairy, gluten, processed foods. Foods are preferably organic and meats preferably free-range. Also included in this protocol is meditation, self-massage, and electrical stimulation therapy.
George Jelinek has developed a lifestyle plan that he believes will eventually stabilize Multiple Sclerosis in concert with traditionally accepted MS therapies. In summation, it consists of diet, supplement, and exercise. It includes a mostly vegetarian diet, with the addition of seafood, void of saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements such as fish oil (I prefer krill oil) or flax seed oil. B and D vitamin supplements. Sunlight 15 minutes daily 3-5 times per week. 30 minutes of daily meditation. 20-30 minutes of exercise 5 times weekly.
I personally have tried The Swank Diet with mixed results. For almost 2 years I consumed raw fruit and vegetables for breakfast lunch and dinner. I went to extremes to adhere to this and misbehaved pretty rarely. In the end, I had less exacerbations than usual. However, I also began Gilenya during this time. There is no way to know which one affected me more. However, I had cut out so much protein (these diets do limit your protein intake) while eating fruit and vegetables which contain mostly carbohydrates. During my January 2012 physical I discovered I was on the verge of diabetes. Changing your diet can have drastic and unexpected results. When I began my disciplined diet regimen I never imagined that what was basically a vegan diet would turn into an enormous health concern. Whatever choice you make, do so with caution and with your doctor’s approval.
Had diet changed Multiple Sclerosis for you?