Look online and you’ll find any number of diets that purport to “cure” multiple sclerosis. The truth, though, is that “so far we haven’t found a particular diet or style of eating that cures MS, or even makes a huge impact,” says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Even so, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of proper nutrition. Certain types of foods may help alleviate—or exacerbate—common health issues associated with the disease. Something else to keep in mind: “You’re at risk of developing the same chronic conditions as anyone else—such as diabetes or heart disease—and those issues can make it even more difficult to live with MS,” Kalb says. Maintaining a balanced diet helps ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Here’s what to fill up on, and what to stay away from.
Get plenty of…
“Constipation is very common among MS patients, and it can be difficult to manage,” Kalb says. Foods that are rich in fiber, such as brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils and whole grains, can help ease bowel troubles.
Scientists are still exploring what appears to be an important connection between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis. “Studies show that people who are low in vitamin D are at greater risk of developing MS, as well as having more frequent relapses and a more aggressive progression of the disease,” Kalb says. While there aren’t many great dietary sources of vitamin D, it may help to stock your refrigerator with D-fortified drinks like milk and orange juice.
By regulating blood sugar, lean protein can help combat one of the most challenging symptoms of MS: fatigue. Eat fish regularly, particularly salmon, herring, tuna, sardines and trout—all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Also good: skinless chicken and turkey or lean meats trimmed of visible fat.
Caffeine and alcohol
MS patients are often plagued by sleep issues such as insomnia. Skipping that afternoon latte or second glass of wine can help you drift off more easily.
These additives can irritate the bladder, Kalb explains, and bladder-control issues affect at least 80 percent of folks with multiple sclerosis.
On the steer-clear list: highly marbled meat, butter, cheese and any other high-fat dairy products. Instead, use vegetable, seed and fish oils in your cooking—and try butter substitutes, but sparingly.
Fatigue can be a problem, and when you’re exhausted, it’s tempting to reach or convenience foods like candy bars or store-bought cookies and muffins. Thing is, the resulting energy crash will hit you even harder. So choose snacks that will sustain you, such as fiber-rich cereal, a handful of unsalted nuts or a piece of fresh fruit.
Studies show that eating a diet high in sodium may lead to a poorer prognosis, so you want to watch your salt intake. Season your dishes with antioxidant-rich fresh herbs and spices instead. You’ll get the same bang for your bite.