Multiple Sclerosis & Diet, Again

My entire take on diet is we all could improve our health by eating better and getting more exercise, and this includes not only our MS community but the general population.  I would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that our quality of life isn’t impacted by our diet.  We eat so much food that is manufactured rather than in its original form, and all the extra calories, preservatives, salt, and artificial ingredients used to entice us to eat more, can’t be good for us, can they?  Convenience and taste are a hard combination to refuse in preparing our meals, but I try to keep in mind something I heard a nutritionist say a while back – if it comes in a box, it is not real food.

There is the ongoing discussion about diet and MS, and I recently added to the chatter with my own thoughts in Diet & MS- Nothing Scientific, Just My Thoughts.  As I mentioned then, I considered enrolling in the study that looked at a strict vegetarian/vegan diet for MS that was modeled on a variation of the Swank Diet.  This study was conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University Department of Neurology and you can read more about their study design through the registration site for Clinical Trials.

Even though I ultimately did not participate in the study, they kept me on their mailing list and the OHSU researchers recently sent an update on their results.  I smiled as I read their email because it confirms again what I have been saying for years – if we eat clean, we will lose weight, feel better, and maybe get other added benefits such as improved heart health and increased energy levels.
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Significant, though, is their finding that the strict vegan approach to diet did not make any change to MS disability, relapse rate or the MRI evidence of disease. It might also be safe to assume that if the vegan diet made no change to MS, then the less restrictive vegetarian diet would make no difference, either.  They reported these findings at earlier meetings, and plan to publish their results but have not done so as of now. The following is the message I received from Vijayshree Yadav, MBBS, MCR, Associate Professor, Neurology, Clinical Director, MS Center, Oregon Health & Science University:

“The objectives of the diet study were to determine the compliance and safety of a plant-based, low-fat diet when followed in people with relapsing-remitting MS for one year and to obtain data on its effects on brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), clinical outcomes, lipids, insulin, and body weight. This study demonstrated safety and achievable compliance for the plant-based, low-fat diet. The study showed a significant reduction in fatigue (using standardized MS fatigue score scales) in patients following the diet vs the wait-listed control patients. Over the one-year trial, the diet group lost an average of 20 lbs, while the control group gained an average of 2 lbs.  Additionally, the diet group showed improved lipid profile and body mass index, both of which likely will yield longer-term vascular health and quality-of-life benefits. We will continue to explore these effects in future clinical trials. The study did not show any differences on the brain MRI, MS relapse, or disability over the one year period. We believe this was due to the small sample size, use of disease modifying therapies by many subjects, and short duration of the study, which likely contributed to the reduced power to detect changes on these outcomes. The significant improvements in the fatigue measures as seen in the study are definitely worth exploring further, since fatigue can be one of the most disabling symptoms of MS. In the near future, we hope to conduct studies with larger sample sizes and longer durations to explore these outcomes.”

The study’s findings on the impact of overall health, including the levels of fatigue, make sense to me and aligns with the conventional views on nutrition and healthy eating.  It also reconfirms what previous studies have shown – regrettably,  curing/preventing MS is not as simple as changing our diet.

Wishing you well,


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