Nutrition and Multiple Sclerosis
By: Lacey Gammon, MPH, RD, LD
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease that effects the central nervous system of the body. Inflammation caused by MS damages nerves and disrupts the brain signals to various parts of the body. Progression, symptoms, and severity all differ among individuals with MS. Symptoms can often be managed with medication, rehabilitation, and other management strategies such as diet and exercise. Visit www.nationalmsscoiety.org for more information on diagnostics and symptoms of MS.
Studies have shown that diet can, in some cases, have a positive effect on symptoms of MS by reducing inflammation in the body. Although no particular diet can “cure” MS, there are several diets that have been reported to show positive benefits. Diets like the Swank Diet and Mediterranean Diet are often recommended for individuals with MS, but more research is needed to verify if these diets have a clear effect on the autoimmune disease or not. Studies have also shown that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids or Omega 3’s such as seeds, nuts, salmon, and olive oil and a diet low in saturated fat such as butter, whole milk, and red meat lead to decreased inflammation and reduced MS symptoms. A low sodium diet has also shown healthful benefits as well as decreased inflammation. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin, but especially for those with MS. Studies have proven that low Vitamin D levels are associated with more negative MS symptoms.
Below is a list of foods to eat plenty of and foods to limit to better MS related symptoms.
Eat these foods:
1. Vitamin D
Get plenty of Vitamin D. The best source of vitamin D comes from sunlight. Spending 30 minutes a day in the sunshine contributes to a healthful lifestyle. Vitamin D is also found in fortified foods; such as milk or orange juice. Most individuals will need to choose a vitamin D supplement. Speak with your physician about the right one for you.
Eat a variety of foods with fiber. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals that help to decrease inflammation and increase energy, immunity, and mood. Fiber also aids in relieving constipation, a common symptom of MS.
3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Incorporate more Omega 3 fats into your diet. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel helps to prevent inflammation and are a part of a well-balanced diet. Cooking with olive oil, hemp seed oil, or avocado oil, also have a similar anti-inflammatory effect on the blood vessels in the body. They also help to lower cholesterol. Munching on an avocado or making homemade guacamole provides a creamy Omega 3 punch to tacos, sandwiches, or toast.
Turmeric is a spice that contains an ingredient called curcumin that has proven to have anti-inflammatory properties. Add it to scrambled eggs, toss with roasted veggies, add it to brown rice, or blend it into a smoothie. While turmeric and curcumin can be provided in supplement form, it’s important to consult with your physician before using any supplement.
Ginger is really great at alleviating muscle and joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It may help to relieve some of the stiffness and pain common in individuals with MS. Fresh ginger root is most commonly chopped and added to tea as a sweetener and flavor enhancer.
Limit these foods:
1. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature or are fats that come from animals like butter, cream, full-fat dairy products, or the white streaks in red meat called marbling. Saturated fats not only increase risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, but they also increase inflammation causing joint pain.
2. Sugar and Aspartame
Foods high in sugar like cakes, sweets, and sodas spike blood sugars contributing to fatigue, another common symptom of MS. While there is little scientific evidence that aspartame has an effect on MS symptoms, many people report a worsening of symptoms. “Sugar-free” foods sweetened with aspartame like diet sodas, reduced calorie juice, or sugar free candies, may provoke headaches or worsen depression. Sugar and sugar replacers have been found to lead to obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers.
A diet high in added salt or processed foods is linked to, you guessed it, increased inflammation thus worsening MS symptoms. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests consuming no more than 2,300mg of sodium daily. That’s less than a teaspoon of table salt per day! Filling up on fresh fruits and veggies is a great way to cut down on sodium intake. Using herbs and spices while cooking offers a flavor profile that may decrease the need for that salty bite.
Mono-sodium Glutamate, or MSG, is a flavor enhancer added to a variety of processed foods such as canned soups, processed meats, or even take-out dinners. Because this chemical is foreign to the digestive system, the body goes into “attack mode” causing an inflammatory response.
5. Refined Grains
A refined grain is a processed grain that is missing all the parts that make it a whole grain; the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples include, white rice, white flour, and white bread; all of which cause higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Not only this, but refined grains have also been linked to heart disease and diabetes.