Explore the relationship between MS and diet, as well as the importance of exercise for managing symptoms.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Although there is no cure for MS, diet and exercise are two key components of a healthy lifestyle that can be particularly beneficial for those with MS, whether you’ve been recently diagnosed or have been living with this health condition for some time. A combination of diet and exercise may help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the relationship between MS and diet, as well as the importance of exercise for managing symptoms.
Diet can play an important role in managing symptoms and improving overall health for individuals with MS. Research has shown that a healthy, nutrient-dense diet rich in Vitamin D, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which may contribute to MS symptoms. Vitamin D especially can help reduce the risk of MS relapses. According to a 2017 study, MS patients who took Vitamin D supplements experienced a reduction in MS progression.
Let’s look at the best foods to include in an MS diet and those to avoid.
Best diets for MS
This diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats like olive oil and nuts. The anti-inflammatory compounds found in these foods may help reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall health.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, the Mediterranean Diet is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and nerve health. Incorporating fatty fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids like cod liver oil into your diet may help reduce inflammation, support brain and nerve health, and improve MS symptoms.
The Paleolithic diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods like lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding processed foods, dairy, and grains. While there is limited research on its effectiveness for MS, it may help reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
Dr. Roy Swank created the Swank diet in 1948, a dietary pattern of low fat developed based on epidemiological evidence which suggested that increased consumption of fat may result in MS disease progression.
Recent studies have demonstrated positive links between declining disability and levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as negative links between the disability status of those with MS and HDL cholesterol levels. A low-fat diet may help reduce oxidative stress in the body, which plays a role in MS disease progression.
The Wahls Diet is a dietary protocol developed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician and researcher who used this approach to manage her own MS symptoms. The diet is designed to be nutrient-dense, providing a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support overall health and reduce inflammation.
The Wahls Diet emphasizes the consumption of whole, nutrient-dense foods. It also includes some gluten-free grains and legumes. Following a nutrient-dense diet like the Wahls Diet may lead to improvements in symptoms of MS such as fatigue, pain, constipation, and mobility issues.
Some other diets that may be beneficial for MS patients are ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting, but there are few clinical studies proving their efficacy. If you have MS, consult with your healthcare provider to identify the specific diet that’s right for you.
Foods to avoid if you have MS
Saturated and trans fats
Saturated and trans fats are found in foods like red meat, butter, cheese, etc. A high fat intake may increase inflammation, which is a risk factor for MS patients.
Some people with MS may be sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten sensitivity can cause digestive issues and inflammation, which may worsen MS symptoms.
Dairy products contain a type of protein called casein that may trigger inflammation in some people.
Regular exercise can also play a significant role in managing MS symptoms. Engaging in physical activity can help improve strength, balance, and overall mobility, as well as reduce fatigue, depression, and other common MS symptoms. Also, MS may worsen with an increase in obesity.
A mind-body practice that combines physical movement with relaxation and meditation. Yoga helps to improve balance, flexibility, and mindfulness, which can be beneficial for individuals with MS.
READ MORE: Yoga for MS: Benefits, Poses, & Tips
Low-impact aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical machine can help improve cardiovascular fitness, boost energy levels, and reduce fatigue. This type of exercise may also help improve mood and cognitive function.
A healthcare provider or a physical therapist is your safest bet when looking for the best exercise program for your individual needs and abilities, especially if the focus is weight loss.
Exercises to avoid if you have MS
Exercises that require prolonged standing
Some people with MS may experience difficulty standing for long periods, so exercises that require prolonged standing may not be suitable.
Exercises that involve high-impact movements, such as running or jumping, may be too strenuous for some people with MS.
How diet and exercise can complement infusion therapy
Diet and exercise can complement infusion therapy by helping to manage side effects, improve overall health, and enhance the effectiveness of treatment.
Some may experience fatigue, nausea, or a weakened immune system. A healthy diet rich in nutrients and antioxidants can help support the immune system and promote overall health, which may reduce the risk of side effects. In addition, exercise can help improve energy levels, reduce fatigue, and promote overall physical and mental well-being.
Also, exercise and a healthy diet can help promote overall health and improve immune function, which may enhance the effectiveness of infusion therapy.
Additional lifestyle tips
Tracking your symptoms is helpful for you and your doctor to understand progression and/or improvement of symptoms — something that’s especially useful when you are on infusion therapy. There are many free apps (like Aby) that can assist with making symptom tracking easier. Having an app on your phone makes it easy to share any new or changing symptoms with your provider when you are at your appointments.
Finding a support group
It can be empowering and educational to be around others who also have MS. Many people develop relationships with people they wouldn’t have otherwise met outside of the support group. If you are interested in finding groups in your area, we recommend nationalmssociety.org.