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Multiple Sclerosis can be a truly debilitating condition, and one for which mainstream medicine has neither found a cure nor, often, satisfactory symptom management. If you or someone you know suffers from MS, you may well find yourself looking into dietary solutions. How well do they work?
Multiple Sclerosis: A Brief Overview
In Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, the immune system attacks the myelin — an essential insulating sheath of proteins and phospholipids — that covers nerve fibers. This process can damage the nerves, and lead to a myriad of often life-altering symptoms. Though MS is considered an autoimmune condition, the exact cause is still unknown at this point, and though the progression of the disease can be slowed down with treatment, there is no cure for MS as of yet.
While most MS patients have a relapsing-remitting pattern of symptoms, meaning they can have long periods during which the disease doesn't rule their lives, a majority of them will unfortunately go on to experience a steady progression of symptoms. These vary greatly from patient to patient, depending on the severity of the condition and the nerves that were affected, but symptoms can include localized numbness of some of the limbs, tingling feelings, tremor, vision changes that can progress to complete loss of sight, dizziness, altered speech, chronic fatigue, bladder function difficulties, and loss of coordination. Stiff muscles, muscle spasms, epilepsy, paralysis, depression, and other mood changes are possible complications of Multiple Sclerosis.
Some patients have such mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary, but who do have debilitating symptoms are limited by the fact that there is no cure — management of Multiple Sclerosis focuses on attack recovery, slowing the progression of the condition, and providing symptom relief. Combine this with the fact that some of the main MS treatments, such as beta interferons, come with very unpleasant side effects for many patients, and it's no wonder that many look to the realm of alternative medicine for answers.
Vitamin D supplements, relaxation exercises, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic are among the techniques MS patients turn to.
Dietary Approaches To MS Management
Dr Roy Laver Swank, an academic neurologist from Oregon University, was an early pioneer of the idea that diet could, as he said, "slow progression of the disease as well as benefit overall health". The diet he proposed, which since became known simply as the Swank diet, is very low in unsaturated fat, even lower in saturated fat, and directs patients to avoid any kinds of processed foods that contain saturated fat as well as going easy on red meats and using only very low-fat dairy. Patients are advised to take dietary supplements, regularly consume foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, and eat as many foods containing wheat, gluten and dairy as they like.
Dr Terry Wahls proposed another MS diet after ending up in a wheelchair within three years of her own diagnosis. After switching to the so-called paleo diet, she became more functional again — even able to bike long distances. She then began sharing her findings with others, writing a book and referring to her diet as a "radical new way to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions". The diet she recommends is now known as the Wahls Protocol.
Multiple Sclerosis patients may also turn to the Weston A Price foundation, so named in honor of the Cleveland dentist who write the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Its nutritional advice includes liberal use of animal fats, unprocessed, and fermented foods, in addition to such things as "think positive thoughts and practice forgiveness".
Finally, some people recommend that MS sufferers try out a gluten-free diet to see whether this could help them improve their symptoms.