Diet and MS

New Directions in MS Research: New Therapeutic Approaches

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The potential to alter the course of MS through diet is intriguing, and has been a focus of researchers since at least 1948, when Dr. Roy Swank formulated a diet low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fats for people with MS. Too often, however, dietary approaches to managing MS have not been supported by large-scale, rigorously conducted studies. Furthermore, the outcomes of many studies have been equivocal, leaving us without clear answers or direction. Fortunately, a number of well-designed trials now are taking up important questions related to diet and MS.

One study randomized 61 people to a low-fat plant based diet for 12 months, and compared them to a control group not bound by dietary restrictions. Researchers did not find any differences in MS activity between the groups, although improvements were seen in fatigue scores, body mass index (BMI) measures, and cholesterol panels. The study authors noted that the small size of the study may have impeded their ability to identify greater effects on the condition.82

A study currently under way has randomized 100 people to a paleolithic diet (no dairy or gluten) versus a low-fat diet (the Swank diet). This study lacks a control group, which may hinder the results. A smaller pilot study of 30 participants also has commenced; it randomizes a group of people with MS to a modified Mediterranean diet versus controls. A third study will place people in two dietary groups, either a calorie-restricted group (78 percent of recommended calories daily) or a group that will practice intermittent fasting; the intermittent fasting group will eat the recommended calorie intake for five days of the week and will eat only 25 percent of recommend calorie intake the other two days of the week. These dietary trials stand to inform and shape future treatment plans for individuals with MS.

Previous: Microbiome