A nutritious, well-balanced diet combined with other healthy lifestyle choices (exercise and refraining from smoking) is the foundation of good health not only for people with MS, but also for the general public. Healthy eating includes foods that are rich in fiber and low in saturated fat, such as lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. The foods you should avoid are just as important, such as processed foods, as well as those high in sugar and salt. Eating in this manner helps the body’s everyday functions, promotes optimal body weight and can help with disease prevention. While there is no specific diet that will prevent or cure MS, there is evidence to support that eating certain foods and nutrients, and avoiding others, may help a person’s MS symptoms and disease activity.
A recent study shows that diet can influence the course of inflammatory diseases in two ways. Dietary factors can directly impact the metabolic process of inflammation in cells. What you eat can also change the mix of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the digestive tract (the gut microbiome).
Nutrition is a hot topic in MS research. Many studies reveal an added benefit for people with MS to the “usual” benefits of adhering to a healthy diet. For example, there is evidence that sodium (the primary component of salt) increases MS disease activity. In an bservational study, people with MS who consumed a moderate or high amount of sodium had a higher rate of relapses and a greater risk of developing a new lesion on MRI than people who consumed a low amount of sodium. Another study shows that consumption of saturated fats (found in such foods as red meat and full-fat dairy products) not only increases the risk of developing MS, but is also linked to disease progression. In addition, a study published in February 2018 found that people who have MS are at an increased risk for heart problems compared to those who don’t have MS, adding more weight to the conclusion that people with MS should steer clear of saturated fats, as well as sweetened foods (which also negatively impact heart health). High sugar intake is also associated with weight gain. Research findings point to obesity as a possible risk factor for MS. Excess weight can also make it more difficult for those living with MS to be mobile and perform activities of daily living. In addition, obesity increases fatigue, which is a common symptom of MS. Interestingly, one study suggests that drinking cow’s milk may be linked to MS prevalence, however these results have not been confirmed.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, certain foods may affect inflammation, either positively or negatively. For example, those that may cause inflammation include fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat, processed meat and margarine. Some anti-inflammatory foods might include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, fruits and nuts (especially walnuts). This school of thought suggests choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods may decrease the risk of illness. Consistently picking the wrong ones may accelerate the inflammatory disease process.