According to MS Research News, in a continued effort to understand how lifestyle interventions can impact the course of multiple sclerosis (MS), the MS Society has committed more than $1 million to support a clinical trial comparing the ability of two popular diets (Wahls & Swank) to treat MS-related fatigue. Click here to learn more about the study. MS-related fatigue is a potentially disabling symptom that can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function at home and at work.
“The MS Society is committed to identifying wellness solutions to help people live their best lives,” noted Bruce Bebo, PhD, MS Society Executive Vice President, Research.
In general, research studies in the area of dietary approaches and strategies have not been focused on the impact of those living with MS. This clinical trial will study 100 people with relapsing-remitting MS who experience fatigue for a 36-week period of time. During this study, participants will follow their normal diets for 12 weeks and then randomly be assigned to follow the Swank or Wahls diet for another 24 weeks.
Dr. Terry Wahls created her protocol after being diagnosed with MS and fighting the negative effects it had on her body. She follows a modified version of the Paleo diet; excluding grains, dairy, eggs, and legumes while emphasizing the consumption of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Dr. Roy Swank created the low saturated fat Swank diet in 1950 after noticing that there was a higher incidence of MS in geographic areas that ate meat, milk, eggs, and cheese (all foods high in saturated fat). Since both diets have proven positive results on people with MS, it will be interesting to see what outcomes are derived from this new study.
My take on any clinical trial focused on diet is that I do not believe in following the strict protocol of any one diet. Every person is unique and ought to focus on living a healthy lifestyle; whatever is right for their particular body. With that said, I do believe studies will prove benefits of both Wahls and Swank because both result in decreasing a person’s inflammation levels. And, inflammation is the root of disease, especially MS.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION AND WHAT CAUSES IT
According to WebMD, “Inflammation is a process by which the body’s white blood cells and substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. However, in some diseases the body’s defense system — the immune system — triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal.”
Namely, inflammation is a natural protective response by the body that is beneficial in some instances as with wound healing, however chronic inflammation can potentially contribute to disease. The Standard American Diet, rich in processed foods, saturated/hydrogenated fats, and animal protein, contains the factors that have been found to contribute to greater risk of disease.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE EXCESSIVE INFLAMMATION
Diseases that are associated with inflammation include arthritis, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune diseases such as MS. Symptoms can include redness, swelling of joints, pain or stiffness and fatigue. A primary way to measure inflammation in the body (and one I use regularly) is to determine your C-reactive protein (CRP) via a simple blood test. CRP is produced by the liver and increases when there is inflammation throughout the body. Although rates vary and you should ask your doctor for what levels are acceptable in your current state of health, levels higher than 3.0mg/L indicate excessive inflammation that might require medical attention.
ONE WAY TO REDUCE YOUR INFLAMMATION LEVELS
There are many ways by which to lessen inflammation and diet plays a lead role. Things to consider when choosing foods include whether or not a food is alkaline or acidic. This aids in controlling your body’s pH balance which, in turn, helps keep your inflammation levels low. Alkaline foods to incorporate the majority of the time include sea salt, vegetables (sea veggies, parsley, cucumber, and broccoli), nuts (pumpkin seeds), fruit (limes, nectarines, watermelon, and raspberries), and mineral water. Acidic foods to include in only about 25% of your diet include milk protein, animal protein, starchy vegetables (corn, green peas, chickpeas), and alcohol to name a few. Highly acidic foods to eat only occasionally, if at all, include table salt, processed cheese, dried fruit, some nuts (peanuts, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts), ice cream, and processed foods.
HOW TO APPLY TO YOUR LIFE
Let me guess; at this point you are thinking, “I’m confused; what’s left to eat?” It can be overwhelming when initially thinking about changing up your diet for the better. And what’s very typical of most people is that you want instant results so you go big or give up.
To set you up for success, here are two dietary approaches that I follow when making my food choices: Andrew Weil, MD Anti-Inflammatory Diet, and The Mediterranean Diet. Read about these diets, go over the list of foods that are included and mark the ones you already eat. Congratulate yourself for already having the beginnings of a healthy diet. Then, pick one or two foods at a time and add them in to your daily or weekly eating. As you find you add in more healthy foods, leave out the ones that aren’t so good for you. Eventually you will find yourself satisfied with healthy, delicious foods while your cravings for the unhealthy foods have diminished. Basically, you will have “crowded out” the bad in favor of the good. This is how you will create lasting change; lower your inflammation and lessen your risk for disease.
When the MS Society concludes their clinical trial to test the Swank and Wahls dietary approaches to treating fatigue in MS, there will be even more information to guide you appropriately with your eating habits so you can decrease inflammation and reduce your MS-related fatigue. Remember, you can live well with MS.
Do you follow a MS diet?
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.
Recommended Reading: The role of stress and MS.