Monday, 2 July 2012

Is there a diet for MS?

When you have an autoimmune condition, you feel a little bit helpless as you have no control over what your body is doing to itself. Diet, exercise, and how we choose to live our lives, are in our control, so it seems only natural to turn to these things to improve the quality of our lives and gain some sense of control.

Warning - This is a LONG post.  If you have MS, I have tried to include links for further reading. 

There are a couple of 'diets' to consider.  They're not really diets, rather healthy eating.

The Australian Heart Foundation Diet

When the area co-ordinator from MS Queensland came to visit me, he said they recommend healthy eating in line with the Australian Heart Foundation Guidelines.

I have read many reports from both the Heart Foundation and Australian Government web sites, but let's keep it simple.  Basically the recommendations are along these lines:
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Include 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit per day.
  • Choose wholegrain breads and breakfast cereals.  Include pasta, noodles and rice.
  • Try to include legumes and pulses in at least 2 meals per week (baked beans, kidney beans, split peas, broad beans, chickpeas etc...)
  • Use spreads made from canola, sunflower or olive oil rather than butter
  • Choose cooking oils such as canola, sunflower, soybean, olive, sesame and peanut oil.
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily energy, and trans fats to less than 1%
  • Eat 2-3 serves of oily fish per week.
  • Select lean meat and poultry.
  • Limit processed meats (eg: sausages) and deli meats (eg: salami)
  • Limit take-away food such as pies, pastries, fried foods and creamy pasta dishes to once per week
  • You can include up to 6 eggs per week
  • Choose reduced, low or no-fat dairy products
  • It's better not to add salt to food.
  • Limit sugary, fatty and salty snack foods such as crisps, cakes, pastries, biscuits, lollies and chocolate.

A summary from the Heart Foundation can be found here
A more detailed report of fats can be found here.
and if you've got plenty of time there's a 283 page document by the National Health & Medical Research Council called Dietry Guidelines for Australian Adults
Well give a girl a disease and she'll read!

The Swank Diet

Yes - I know what it sounds like, but actually this guy was amazing!
Roy Laver Swank, was a neurologist who believed there was a possible correllation between high saturated fat intake and MS.  In 1950, whilst working at the Montreal Neurological Institute, Dr Swank started to put patients with MS on a low-fat diet and then followed their progress for an incredible 36 years.  You can read about him here.  In his book The Multiple Sclorosis Diet Book, he outlines his low-fat diet:

  • Limit saturated fat to 15grams per day
  • Unsaturated fat (oils) should be 20-50 grams per day
  • No red meat for the first year, then 2 oz (57g) of medium fat meat or 3 oz (85g) of low-fat meat once per week
  • Chicken & turkey breast (Trimmed, no skin) 4 oz (113g)
  • Allowed unlimited fish but count the oil from oily fish eg: salmon
  • Allowed 3 eggs per week
  • Dairy food must contain 1% or less of butter fat (this eliminates most dairy)
  • Include grains & cereals - wholemeal preferred
  • Nuts & seed allowed - count the oil
  • 2 pieces of fruit per day
  • 2 cups of vegetables per day
  • The following were not allowed - butter, margerine, lard, coconut, palm oil, hydrogenated oil, all processed foods containing saturated fat eg: commercially prepared pastry, cakes, biscuits etc...

A summary of the diet can be found here
The book is divided into two parts - an explaination of the diet and research, and a recipe section.  The recipes are useful, just a little uninspiring, but the book was first published in 1972.
The results from his study are quite remarkable.  To see a copy of the results published in The Lancet Medical Journal in 1990, see the OMS website here.
The results are quite detailed but basically, Swank divided the people in the study into good dieters (less than 20g sat fat per day) and poor dieters (more than 20g sat fat per day).  The results show the change in neurological grade (disability) and the death rate - all causes, and MS only for each group.  Overall the good dieters declined less and lived longer than the poor dieters.
Dr Swank died in 2008 at the age of 99.

Professor George Jelinek - Overcoming Multiple Sclorosis (OMS)

Professor Jelinek wrote a book called Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis - An Evidence-Based Guide to Recovery.  A very dear friend gave me a copy of this book only a few weeks after I was diagnosed and it was the single biggest influence in how I chose to deal with my MS.

Professor Jelinek was an Australian Professor of Emergency Medicine, when just like his mother, he was diagnosed with MS.  He undertook extensive analysis of medical research, and developed a recovery program based on diet, exercise and lifestyle factors.  This program is outlined in his book and on the website Overcoming Multiple Sclorosis

These diet recommendations are based of the work of Swank and other research, but rather than have to count fats and oils, he recommends eating a plant-based wholefood diet, plus seafood, avoiding saturated and altered fats.
  • Eat as often as desired - fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, soy products, white fish.
  • Eat in Moderation - oily fish, shellfish/other seafood, avocado, olives, nuts & seeds
  • Eat Occasionally - tea, coffee & alcohol
  • Eat Never - dairy products (due to evidence that there may be a link between dairy and MS), meat, egg yolks, commercial cakes, most fast food, margerine, foods fried in oil, palm oil and 'vegetable oil'

He has jokingly coined the phrase "aqua-vegan" to describe his George friendly food.
I would definately recommend this book to anybody who has MS.  If you have MS or know somebody with MS, you can get a copy of the book free through The Gawler Foundation.  As it was only published in 2009, the research and evidence is still relevant.

Dr Terry Walhs - Minding My Mitochondria

Dr Walhs also has MS.  Her health was deteriorating to the point where she was using a tilt recline motorized wheelchair.  She also took control of her diet and improved her health.
You can see her You Tube video here.  She also has a website here

Dr Walhs started her diet based on a hunter gatherer (Paleo) style diet but ensured it included all the nutrients she needed for her brain cells and her mitochondria. I had never heard of mitochondria - so here is a definition from Biology4Kids (let's keep it simple huh?) -  Mitochondria are know as the powerhouses of cells.  They are the organelles that act like a digestive system that takes in nutrients, breaks them down, and creates energy for the cell.  Got that?
The basis of the diet is:

  • 3 cups green leaves - kale, parsley
  • 3 cups sulpher rich vegetables - cabbage family, onion family, mushrooms
  • 3 cups of bright colour - capsicum, carrots, purple vegetables, berries, peaches, oranges
  • wild fish - omega 3
  • grass-fed organic meat, including organ meat
  • seaweed for iodine
  • No grains (gluten), potatoes or dairy (caesin protein)
  • No processed foods


Yep.  If you take meat and grains out of the picture, where there are opposing views, you can see some common elements across all 'diets'.  Namely

Reduce all saturated fats in your diet
Eat omega-3 rich foods
Eat plenty of fruit & vegetables
Reduce or eliminate dairy
Reduce or eliminate processed foods

Now that's food for thought!

I'm sorry this post is so long, but to understand what I am trying to achieve with The MS Foodie, I wanted to provide a background.

For those of you who were patient enough to read this post or at least scroll to the bottom, this is for you.

I'm ditching commercial food
 For REAL food, minus the dairy


  1. Hey Kylie :) This was really interesting to read, thanks so much for sharing this info. I've been considering cutting out dairy and processed foods for a while now for a whole bunch of reasons and I guess this is another one to add to the list.
    Cas xx

  2. Oh Kylie, I was so sad to read about your diagnosis. You are truly a strong and brave woman, I love your can do attitude and I am so inspired by your courage and your willingness to share. I am praying that the journey for you is the best is can be and I am sure that you will be a blessing to many people as you go. xx

  3. strangely after reading Big Fat Lies by David Gillespie I am cutting out seed oils and adding animal fats back in- totally the opposite- but I am not dealing with your health issues either. But we also don't eat processed food- all home cooked here.

  4. Thank you for sharing such a personal story Kylie, you're very courageous. This nutritin info is rather interesting, my son has adhd & we have been using natural therapies rather than drugs to manage him & I am happy to say its been a small miracle. He is not supposed to eat dairy or wheat due to the proteins in them not digesting fully & then acting like an oppiate in his system, then of course there is the sugar & presrvative cut backs as well as herbs & tonics from the homeopath & bio chemist. Nutrition is a powerful way to heal the body.
    You may enjoy reading this blog . She has a pretty incredible story & some amazing advice to offer, not to mention recipes.

    Good luck with everything & I hope now you have a diagnosis you will have the help needed to feel better.

    Trish xx

  5. Hi, well researched and you make some good points! Something I think all of us (MS or not) should take note of.... I have to also say that George Jelinek is an amazing person (who I had the pleasure of working with a few years ago) and his advice I would always recommend. It sounds like a tough diet to follow (whichever you choose), but as you say, there are only a few things we really get to control... So, good luck!

    1. Thanks Jenny. I look forward to meeting George myself one day.

  6. Thank you. This is so helpful. I appreciate that you took the time to summarize them all. I am living with MS and am in the middle of trying to decide what's best.

  7. Thank you. This is so helpful. I appreciate that you took the time to summarize them all. I am living with MS and am in the middle of trying to decide what's best.

  8. THANK YOU so much for this article! I have had MS for 18 years (since 19-thought I was going blind and deaf and it took 5 years before doctors figured out a few of my diseases). I've been looking into diets/ways of eating. And have been so confused, but keep coming back to Swank, McDougall, Jelinek! Thanks for putting it together as you did. It is a hard thing to go through, but you definitely can still do great things in your life. =)


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