Multiple Sclerosis and Nutrition
by Nathalie Kruizinga
So What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects 1 in 800 people all over the world. It is a non-contagious, chronic, autoimmune disorder which affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). MS is a condition where your own immune system starts to attack Myelin, a substance that insulates and protects the nerve fibres like the covering of an electric wire. When the electric wiring of a machine is faulty the machine will either not function properly or not function at all. Where the Myelin is destroyed it will leave hardened scars known as lesions (Multiple Sclerosis means literally “many scars”). The messages that travel through the nerve fibres will be interrupted, slow down or not come through through these lesions at all. This will cause the typical symptoms of MS like double vision, shaking and slurred speech. If more lesions occur there will be more damage to the Myelin and more and more electrical impulses from the brain to the various parts of the body will be interrupted or stopped. This will result in more numerous, and more severe symptoms.
Different Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are different different types of multiple sclerosis:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS is the most common form (75% at the time of diagnosis) and is characterised by clearly defined attacks (relapses) followed by complete or partial recovery (remissions).
- Primary-Progressive MS is less common (10 to 15% at time of diagnosis). People with this type of MS have a nearly continuous worsening of their symptoms from the beginning with no clear relapses or remissions.
- Secondary-Progressive MS affects about half of people who start out with relapsing-remitting MS when their symptoms start to worsen within ten years of diagnosis, with possibility of increasing levels of disability.
- Progressive-Relapsing MS is relatively rare. People with this type experience a steady worsening of symptoms right from the onset of the disease.
Some Facts About Multiple Sclerosis
Here are some interesting statistics and facts about Multiple Sclerosis:
- The earliest known description of a person with possible Multiple Sclerosis dates from 14th century Holland.
- Multiple Sclerosis was first diagnosed in 1849.
- In 1936, only 8% of patients were reported to survive beyond 20 years after the onset of illness.
- In 1961, over 80% of Multiple Sclerosis patients were reported to survive beyond 20 years after onset of illness.
- In 2002 patients with Multiple Sclerosis had life expectancies just seven years less, on average, than the general population.
- In Britain today, approximately 70,000 people have the disease.
- The average age of the clinical onset of Multiple Sclerosis is 30 – 33 years.
- The risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis if your father had the disease is approximately 1 in 100.
- The risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis if your mother had the disease is approximately 1 in 50.
- Multiple Sclerosis is five times more prevalent in temperate climates than in the tropics.
- Multiple Sclerosis affects women much more frequently than men.
- Twice as many white people are affected by Multiple Sclerosis as non-white people.
- Multiple Sclerosis occurs rarely among Asians, Gypsies, North and South Americans, First Nation Americans and Inuits.
What are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis vary widely from person to person but include:
- Eye problems such as double vision or uncontrolled eye movements.
- Clumsiness or weakness.
- Balancing problems
- Problems walking
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bladder or bowel control
- Muscle stiffness or spasms
- Pins and needles or numbness in body parts
- Depression and anxiety
The Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
Most people will go to their doctor when they notice one or a few of these symptoms. Sometimes it takes a while (in some cases several years) before a doctor will think in the direction of MS. There are several methods used in the diagnoses of this disease, the most common being the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, where a neurologist can see from the images if there are any lesions either on the spinal cord or the brain. Another option is a Spinal Tap. This is a procedure where a doctor removes a few samples from the cerebrospinal fluid with a thin hollow needle to determine the concentration of immune cells and proteins in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
It can be a big shock to find out that you have MS and then to realise that there is no cure for this disease and no prediction of how the disease will develop in you. If there are no real symptoms which require medication, people will go home with this horrible diagnosis and just carry on with their lives, not knowing what the future will bring.
How Can Multiple Sclerosis Be Treated?
Depending on their symptoms, some treatment may be offered. However as there is still no known cure, doctors can only treat the symptoms or, in some cases, reduce the activity of the disease. There is a lot of research, such as Stem Cell Research, being carried out and there have been a few discoveries that could hopefully help patients in the future. But for now most people will get treatment only when it is essential to treat certain symptoms.
The only other thing people can do is to try and stay as healthy as they can by diet and exercise. Many people are convinced that diet can be a big help in the treatment of MS. This is based on the idea that in certain countries, where certain diets are prevalent, there is a lower rate of MS.
Two Diets That May Help With MS
There are several diets that are claimed to help control MS, and two of these are widely accepted worldwide:
The Swank Diet was developed by Dr. Roy Swank MD, Professor and Head of Division of Neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School in America. Dr. Swank began studying of the correlation between MS and Diet in the late 1940’s and his remains the most popular MS diet to this day. To have the most benefit from the diet you will have to stick to these basic rules:
- Do not exceed the limit of 15 grams of saturated fat per day.
- Keep unsaturated fat down to 20-50 grams per day.
- Eat no red meat for the first year, after this a small portion maybe consumed once a week.
- If consuming dairy products make sure they contain less than 1% or less butterfat.
- Do not consume any processed foods containing saturated fat.
- Take a good multi-vitamin supplement and 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil daily.
- The oils Dr. Swank recommends taking are Sunflower seed, Olive, Safflower, Sesame seed, Rapeseed (canola), Cottonseed, Linseed, Soybean, Peanut, and Flax seed.
- Try eating whole-grain cereal, pasta, crackers, and rice when available. Do not eat refined grains. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol to one serving each per day. Further it is advised to take plenty of rest, reduce stress and learn to relax more.
- Dr. Swank claims that after 35 years of clinical tests, he has proven that without any doubt the diet will help in reducing the frequency and severity of recurrences of MS symptoms in patients.
To make this diet work you would have to be very strict in sticking to it. Throughout the twentieth century the content of fat in our diet went up and up, and so did the numbers of MS patients, mainly in the high fat consuming countries. Now in the twenty-first century we are generally becoming more aware of what we eat. It will be interesting to see what happens to the MS statistics if this healthy eating trend continues.
The Palaeolithic Diet (Paleo Diet, Caveman Diet, Hunter-Gatherer Diet) involves rediscovering the basic principles that made our ancestors healthy. S. Boyd Eaton, an authority on prehistoric diets, has pointed out that the food we eat now is not in suitable for our genetic requirements. We need to eat more like our ancestors did, otherwise we will be more vulnerable to diseases like multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. To stop or minimise the chances of contracting these diseases we should try to eat the same diet that was enjoyed by our ancestors.
Our genetic makeup means that we require a certain diet to stay healthy and many people believe that this Palaeolithic (stone age) diet can be the answer to a longer and healthier life. All people were hunter-gatherers before the development of agriculture, so they ate the wild fruits and vegetables they gathered and the meat of the animals they hunted. Before agriculture milk and most grains were not part of the diet. When agriculture became popular, our menu started to contained more milk and grains and after the industrial revolution the diet got even worse. People started refining grains, taking a lot of the nutrients away. Refined sugar in large quantities became a normal part of our daily food.
In this day and age lots of people do not cook or eat fresh food anymore. We tend to rely more and more on supermarkets to provide us with ready made meals that can be heated in the microwave. Going from fresh fruits and vegetables, lean wild meat or fish full of vitamins and anti-oxidants to over processed food with little nutritional value that loses even more of the goodness by putting it in the microwave, has not done us any favours. But this is the diet modern people eat and it is of no surprise that more and more of us are suffering from welfare diseases like multiple sclerosis, cancer and heart disease.
So maybe we should go back to basics, and eat more like our ancestors did. Maybe the best way to maintain our health is to follow the Palaeolithic diet. In the Palaeolithic diet protein was about a quarter of all the calories consumed and came from lean meat and fish, freshly killed (not frozen). Proteins play a big role in auto-immune diseases and the amount and sources of the proteins we eat now could explain the high incidents of certain diseases.
Carbohydrates in the Palaeolithic diet were mainly gained from fruits and root vegetables, full of nutrients and fibre. Carbohydrates accounted for about 35% of their calorie intake. In the modern diet this goes up to 55% and is mainly gained from processed grains and sugars. These carbohydrates contain less fibre and nutrients and could be linked to diabetes. In the Palaeolithic diet fats were about 35% of calories consumed and consisted mainly of mono-saturated and poly-unsaturated fats. There was a good amount of Omega 3 oils in their diet and not much saturated fat. The main sources of fat were lean wild animals, fish and nuts. Now Omega 3 is scarce in our diet. Instead we eat for too many saturated fats and trans fatty acids. This could be part of the explanation for health problems including heart disease, strokes, hypertension, cancer and chronic degenerative diseases.
The Palaeolithic diet also contained more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, mainly due to the high intake of fruits and vegetables.
So the Palaeolithic diet rules are:
- Eat no dairy products, refined sugar, added salt and any processed foods. Only eat small quantities of grains, beans and potatoes. Beans and potatoes would not have been available to stone age peoples in Europe. Some grains (grasses) would have been available but would have needed a lot of energy to prepare so probably would not have been consumed in any quantities. Potatoes and some beans contain toxins. Of course Palaeolithic people would have eaten many foods which contained toxins, acorns and some roots for example, and would have known how to make them save by leaching in running water, as Australian Aborigines still do today. You should do your own thinking on this.
- Do eat lean meat (wholemeat, fed organically and which has not been given hormones), liver, kidney, fish, fruit, nuts, berries, and vegetables (especially root vegetables, but do not include potatoes or sweet potatoes).
- Try to eat more root vegetables like carrots, turnips and swedes.
Is It Possible To Alleviate Multiple Sclerosis By Diet?
There is no scientific proof that Multiple Sclerosis can be cured by diet, but many people who have started a healthy diet like the Swank, Palaeolithic, or any other diet that claims to help with Multiple Sclerosis, seem to feel better. It could be psychological; you believe that this diet will help you and through your own mind power, you feel better.
Some people will say that if you are on a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats you will automatically feel better, whether you have MS or not. Maybe we should not hope for an outright cure but anything that helps alleviate the symptoms must be worth a go. Such diets do provide hope, structure and a healthy way of life that can help people deal with a disease like Multiple Sclerosis and by supporting your body with healthy nutrients and supplements you can only feel better. It can also be argued that if healthy people follow a healthy diet they will be more likely to stay healthy and far less likely to develop a disease like Multiple Sclerosis in the first place. Of course there will also be those who do eat well and develop MS anyway. As we saw earlier in this article, many other factors are also involved.
One main thing with Multiple Sclerosis is the feeling of having no control. Once you have been diagnosed it is just a game of wait and see what will happen. Each person will have different symptoms and the development of the disease will vary. It can make a person very insecure, as each symptom that develops can also have other causes. The treatment you can get from doctors is just medication to deal with symptoms. They have not found a cure yet. When other people try the diets, and say they have had no symptoms for years, it gives you hope. Perhaps you can do something to help with this potentially crippling disease after all?
I would advise anyone who has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (or any other disease for that matter), to start with one of the diets that seems to appeal the most. It will provide you with a strong base from which to help fight the disease. Most people on these diet will lose weight, so that will be beneficial too. As well as the diet, start concentrating on doing exercise and finding ways to relax more. It is still the combination of a healthy body and a healthy mind which I believe to be the key.
Until there is a medical cure for Multiple Sclerosis this healthy lifestyle will help you deal better with the disease and make you feel more positive (lots of MS sufferers are prone to depression). Surely that is reason enough for any Multiple Sclerosis sufferer to start on this diet. My boyfriend has chosen the Swank diet, but I have spoken to people who holy believe the Palaeolithic diet has made a big difference in their life. The common theme in both these approaches is the reduction in fat intake. The main thing is to choose what works for you and to go with your instinct, what you feel will be good for you, probably will be. Let’s not wait until a disease has been diagnosed to change our lifestyle. Making the right changes now might help us prevent future diseases, maybe even Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies by David Lander, Rosalind Kalb, Nancy Holland, and Barbara Giesser
Taking Control of Multiple Sclerosis: Natural and Medical Therapies to Prevent Its Progression by George Jelinek
A Biochemical Basis of Multiple Sclerosis by Roy Laver Swank
The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book by Roy Laver Swank and Barbara Brewer Dugan
Reversing Multiple Sclerosis: 9 Effective Steps to Recover Your Health by Celeste Pepe and Lisa Hammond
The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat by Loren Cordain
The Palaeolithic Prescription: A Programme of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living
by S. Boyd, M.D. Eaton, Marjorie Shostak, and Melvin Konner
Stone Age Health Programme: Diet and Exercise as Nature Intended by S.Boyd Eaton, Shostak, and Konner