Diet Matters… and It Matters Now

Greetings from ECTRIMS, the 34th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS. This is a lion of a meeting–the world’s largest gathering of researchers dedicated to MS. One thing I have noticed is how close MS researchers are getting to the real concerns of people affected by this disease.

People with MS have been asking for years about diet–is there a diet that works for MS? Does what you eat matter? The work I’ve seen thus far is beginning to answer these questions (links to the scientific summaries, or abstracts, are provided below).

We’ve all heard about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables. Dr. Ilana Katz-Sand and colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City randomly assigned 36 women to this diet or educational seminars. Those on the diet received training with a nutritionist and attended monthly meetings to promote adherence. Only one person dropped out of this six-month study, and participants reported that they were able to stick with the diet. Preliminary results show some improvements in fatigue and quality of life. We need larger studies to see whether MS symptoms can be managed using the Mediterranean diet, but this small study shows how feasible these studies can be (Abstract P643). This diet also was linked to fewer relapses in a preliminary study by Dr. Danyel Chermon and a team at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who administered questionnaires and food diaries to 47 people with MS (Abstract P1001).

“Ketogenic” diets are high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets that have been shown to actually battle inflammation, similar to what happens during the course of MS. Dr. J. Nicholas Brenton and colleagues from Virginia and Canada enrolled 20 participants with relapsing-remitting MS; a trained dietitian taught them how to adhere to a modified ketogenic diet. Their adherence was monitored daily by testing ketone levels in urine. Fatigue, depression and body mass index (an indirect measure of body fat) all improved after three months of dieting. Inflammatory molecules that are secreted by fatty tissue were reduced. Studies like these are what we need to eventually develop evidence-based dietary lifestyles that may benefit people with MS (Abstract P958).

There are many ways to go about studying diets–although it doesn’t have the same statistical power as a controlled trial—evaluating questionnaire results can allow researchers to involve more people. Dr. Kathryn Fitzgerald and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore analyzed data from a group of 277 people who answered more than 100 diet questions, and were assessed for neurologic function. Their findings were striking to me—participants with the best scores in diet quality had significantly higher processing speeds (cognition) and faster walking speeds than those with the lowest diet quality scores (Abstract P364).

I’m truly heartened to see so many teams doing the hard work necessary to show how important diet can be for people with MS. But what’s especially great about this research is that while we may need to wait to confirm the effects of any particular diet, we don’t need to wait another minute to act on what we already know. What you eat matters. Healthy eating improves overall health–even if you have a chronic disease like MS–and early findings show it may help address MS symptoms and disease activity.

Check out all the news from ECTRIMS 2018 on our website. 
Tags Healthcare, Healthy Living, Research, Symptoms      6 Appreciate this
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Kathleen Zackowski

Dr. Kathleen Zackowski has conducted research on rehabilitation approaches for MS and other disorders for more than 15 years. She just joined the Society’s research team as senior director of patient management, care and rehabilitation research after working as a clinician and researcher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is working to grow the Society’s research focused on clinical care and rehabilitation, and wellness strategies.

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  • Kevin Shirey   Oct 10, 2018 4:13 PM
    Accidently I found that tomato juice (V8) helps me a lot with fatigue. Anytime I'm fatigued to the point of exhaustion I drink a glass of V-8 and I immediately start to recover, not 100% but I feel much better Other blends of tomato juice also help but not like V8. Before V8 I used to drink Bolthouse Farms vegetable/tomato juice which was similar to V8 but Bolthouse discontinued it in our area, so I switched to V8. I was diagnosed a few years ago with MS. I'm a W/M 61 years old.

    I've mentioned this to my Doctor and a few Dietitians, but nobody seem to know why.
  • Catherine Thompson   Oct 10, 2018 6:06 PM
    Hi kathleen,

    I have relapse remitting MS and I have been on an injection therapy and relapse free for 8 years.
    My recent MRI showed a new lesion indicating the therapy isn’t working any longer.
    I am ready to focus on diet and have been looking at the Wahls protocol.
    I am curious, in the diet study it mentions there was a modified ketogenic diet. Can you tell me how it was modified?

    Thank you,
  • Trish   Oct 11, 2018 9:49 AM
    I have been an on/off user of the whole 30. When I did my first whole 30 I lost weight and felt great. That was 5 years ago. I have since adheared to this and when I feel crappy because my eating is out of control I do another 30 days and it resets my system and I feel so much better. Food is something I can control so I do watch what I put into my body. I have RRMS and have not had a flair up since I started paying attention to what I eat. Food matters.
  • Barbara Maye   Oct 13, 2018 7:54 PM
    Dr.Kathleen - Thanks so much for your interest in diet and MS. I was diagnosed 30 years ago with RRMS. I have always thought that what we consume has to have an impact on our bodies with MS. I eat pretty healthy and always have and believe that is why I haven't had an exacerbation in 20 years. Please continue to stay focused and hopefully find a way to end this ridiculous disease.
  • Kathleen Zackowski   Oct 16, 2018 2:00 PM
    In response to the question asking about a modified ketogenic diet -- this is the same as the “modified Atkins diet.” It is nicely described on the Epilepsy Foundation’s website if you’d like to check it out:

    Thank you for your comment.
  • Amy Clark   Oct 16, 2018 10:41 PM
    Hi Kathy, So good to see this. As you know, I couldn't agree more.
  • Nancy Bergstrom   Oct 17, 2018 1:00 PM
    Kathleen - I am needing to manage my diet better in general, and it makes sense to follow some sort of plan that may also assist with my MS. So this article has been timely. Thank you - Nancy
  • Rick Nelson   Oct 20, 2018 9:16 PM
    There absolutely is a Diet that allows us to overcome MS.

    MS is a 25% grnetic and 75% lifestyle disease. We can control our lifestyle.

    There is good solid research, modern ( much in Europe and in Australia) and back to 1950’s that clearly show this. (See the work of Professor Roy Swank)

    This research clearly shows that people with MS who live a plant and seafood diet and consume less than 20g of saturated fat per day do not deteriate.

    Check out the research backing this up on the website

    Take control!

    Please read the book: Overcoming Multiplel Sclerosis and evidence-based Guide to Recovery by Professor and Dr George Jelinek.

    Follow the program and control the disease. It will change your life.

    It descrives the overcoming ms lifestyle with extensive the research to back it up.
  • Avatar
    Katzzz  Nov 16, 2018 11:18 AM
    Good morning, I am new to this and new to MS. Before even realizing that I was having MS Symptoms, I can honestly say juicing has by far been the best option to make me feel better. is a great juicing company to use, its a little more expensive, but it takes all the work and prep out of doing it yourself. There is a a shot called "The Wellness Shot" that I take daily which is made up Ginger, Lemon and Cayanne.
  • Judy Wardlow   Nov 28, 2018 11:32 PM
    I get very discouraged because so many articles and blogs like this one seem to be written for those individuals with Relapsing MS and so little for people like me who have Primary Progressive MS. Treatment is rarely the same for both types.
  • Terri   Jul 18, 2019 11:43 AM
    Hi,I've been diagnosed with Ms for number if years but because I have virus I'm going left untreated!!! What do I do yo get help I'm literally going insane