Multiple sclerosis (MS): How diet can make a difference

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, leading to a wide range of physical and cognitive function impairments. "While there is no cure for MS, certain lifestyle changes, including diet, can significantly impact the quality of life for individuals living with this condition," says Diana N. Andino, MD, Neurology at ARC Four Points.

Why is diet important?

Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is important for individuals with MS for several reasons:

  • Reduce inflammation: MS involves inflammation in the central nervous system, and certain foods can either increase or decrease inflammation in the body. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help in managing MS symptoms.
  • Boost immune system: A well-balanced diet strengthens the immune system, making it easier for the body to fight infections and prevent relapses.
  • Manage weight: MS symptoms can limit physical activity, leading to weight gain. A healthy diet plays a vital role in weight management, reducing stress on the joints and enhancing mobility.
  • Enhance energy levels: Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. Nutrient-dense foods provide sustained energy, combating the exhaustion often experienced by MS patients.

MS-friendly foods

Some foods that contribute to a nutrition-dense, balanced diet include:

  • Fatty fish: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines have anti-inflammatory properties, promoting brain health and reducing MS-related inflammation.
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables: Berries, oranges, spinach, and kale are packed with antioxidants and vitamins, helping to strengthen the immune system and reduce oxidative stress.
  • Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat provide long-lasting energy and are high in fiber, promoting gut health and aiding digestion.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent plant-based protein sources that help in muscle repair and provide energy without the saturated fat found in animal products.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are rich in healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants, supporting brain health and reducing inflammation.
  • Dairy alternatives: For individuals with food sensitivities such as lactose intolerance, options like almond milk, soy milk, and coconut yogurt provide essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D without dairy-related discomfort.

Foods to avoid for people with MS

Some foods and food groups should be avoided or eaten in moderation, including:

  • Saturated fats: High-fat dairy products, red meat, and processed foods often contain saturated fats that can promote inflammation. These should be consumed in moderation or avoided.
  • Processed foods: Processed foods are often high in sodium, unhealthy fats, and sugar, contributing to weight gain and inflammation. Opting for fresh, whole foods is a healthier choice.
  • Artificial additives: Certain artificial additives, such as aspartame and MSG, might trigger MS symptoms in some individuals. It's important to read food labels and avoid products containing these substances.
  • Alcohol and caffeine: While moderate consumption might be acceptable for some individuals, excessive alcohol and caffeine intake can interfere with sleep patterns and exacerbate MS-related fatigue.

"While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing MS through diet, adopting a balanced and nutritious eating plan can significantly improve the overall well-being of individuals living with this condition," says Dr. Andino. "By focusing on anti-inflammatory foods, avoiding triggers, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, those with MS can empower themselves to lead fuller, more active lives despite the challenges they face."

Make an appointment today

Always consult your physician for personalized dietary recommendations tailored to individual needs and symptoms.

You can make an appointment online with an ARC Neurologist with ARC MyChart or by visiting the ARC Neurology web page to find the ARC Clinic closest to you.

Tags: Multiple sclerosis (MS)