Today I thought I’d share some questions about MS and diet submitted by Jennifer F. of Kansas City. Please feel free to submit your own questions about healthy eating, multiple sclerosis, or natural living for you’d like to see addressed! From time to time I’ll share reader questions that are submitted to me that might be of interest to others.
With so many “MS diets” available, how did you decide/know that your whole foods approach would be best for you?
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago, there weren’t so many “MS diets”. In fact, most MS doctors I encountered did not mention diet at all when discussing disease management. The only diet advice around that I could find was published in the late 1950s by Dr. Swank in The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book. He advocated a diet high in unsaturated fats (omega 3s, 6s, etc. found in fish, avocados, seeds, nuts, olives/olive oil, etc.) and no saturated fats (no red meat, at least until you stabilized).
I found his approach fascinating and valid, but it seemed to be dismissed by the scientific community because it wasn’t a phase-3, double-blind trial. Dr. Swank had felt morally obligated to apply this diet to all of his patients (around 80, I think) and not deny anyone the opportunity to improve by giving some a placebo, as is required for a phase-3 trial. As I have come to believe, the “scientific method” as our modern society has come to define it, has some drawbacks when it comes to the individuality of humans and the miracle of the human body, not to mention the ethics involved by denying some participants life-saving treatment in the name of science.
The Swank book is still in print, and although I found it in some ways more rigid than suited me, particularly because it addressed the typical 1950s mostly-meat-and-potatoes-with-a-smattering-of-canned,-smothered,-or-overcooked-vegetables-diet rather than the vegetarian-leaning,-dairy-free-diet that I already partially subscribed to, I realized that it was similar to how I already ate. I just really needed to up my unsaturated fat intake, which I significantly did by changing my 1980s-era mind-set that believed that all fats were bad (I remember virtually living on bagels because they were a “no-fat” food!).
Unsaturated fats, I learned, are essential for everything from expanding the neural pathways during the early years of life to maintenance and repair of the nervous system from the ravages of afflictions from degeneration due to aging to visible myelin sheath damage, as we see with MS. Not to mention the role of plant-based fats in cushioning internal organs and providing moisture to skin and hair.
What Swank did not address was the role of organic vs. conventional foods as this was not on the general radar at the time.
I’m curious how you learned about whole foods. The reason I ask is that it has been difficult to find much information about it.
Yes. Western doctors sometimes seem to be hesitant to offer advice that doesn’t make money for the drug companies! 🙂
Did I just say that? Maybe I shouldn’t have, but sometimes I wonder…
I educated myself about whole foods because I was determined to avoid a debilitated future. At the time I was diagnosed, I was planning my wedding, had just finished graduate school, had just purchased a Victorian fixer-upper, and wanted to have kids some day (I was 29 then). I have a journalistic background and dove into researching how I could best be proactive about my future with this disease. The more I learned, the more I became interested in nutrition and the link between diet and health, and picked up more certifications and other advanced courses of study.
My studies led me to conclude that the best thing you can do for ANY body, healthy or otherwise, is to eat a healthy diet. As I delved more deeply, I became convinced that a healthy diet is made up of a variety of whole foods. It was the quality of “wholeness” of the food that was more important than the quantity of the foods. To make it more applicable to fighting my MS, I emphasized unsaturated fats over saturated fats, which actually make this way of eating healthier for everyone, not only MS patients.
I have come to believe that MS and many other diseases (cancers, heart disease, diabetes…) are a result of the denaturization of the food we eat through processing, chemicals, and other tinkering, combined with the environmental toxins we are exposed to through the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the cleaning products we use, our skin care and body care products, etc. We each have a unique tolerance threshold for these things, and some of us are more sensitive than others.
In short, I believe these diseases are products of the modern age. If you study the history of these ailments, like MS, most were relatively rare before the industrial revolution in the mid-to-late 1800s. MS was almost unseen before the late 1800s, for example. Heart disease didn’t rise to prominence as a popular killer until the second half of the twentieth century, along with tv dinners, canned foods, fast food, and other “modern convenience foods.”
Did you try other MS diets first?
No. I do a lot of research and study and piece together the important parts to find what works for me. As I said above, when I was diagnosed there weren’t any other MS diets out there besides Swank, and he was barely talked about and pretty much discredited. Recently published, The MS Recovery Diet book follows a philosophy similar to mine and has seen astounding results.
Also, do you recommend certain supplements for MS patients?
It’s never a bad idea to load up on Omega-3s in the form of fish oil or flax seeds/flax seed oil. My buddies at the Rocky Mountain MS Center believe that you can’t get enough omega-3s through diet alone, and if you’re only going to take one supplement, it should be fish oil/flax seeds. I like to sprinkle ground flax seeds on my salads, yogurt, etc.
The other supplement that has shown great promise for MS is vitamin D. I prefer to get my vitamin D from sunshine on non-sunscreened skin, but supplements from a quality supplement company are probably not a bad idea.
Other than that, supplements are usually taken to bring the body into balance and treat specific symptoms, i.e., evening primrose for sleep problems. However, as a naturapath-in-training, I’m a bigger believer in using supplements to nourish weakness in the body, which is not necessarily the same as treating symptoms. You’d really need to talk to a naturapath to get a better idea of what specific remedies would be helpful for you in alleviating other imbalances.
Read more about my philosophy of nutrition at Glorious One-Pot Meals.