Multiple sclerosis: the two most popular diets

Changing your lifestyle and your diet, in particular, goes a long way to improving the symptoms and quality of life of people with multiple sclerosis. Here are the differences between the two most followed diets and what the science says.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath surrounding nerves. Affecting millions of people (including 2/3 of women), this neurological disease is progressive and disabling. His drug treatments are cumbersome and ineffective, which leads some patients to change their diet to help space out flare-ups and make them less severe.

While there are promising diets, two have been tested for a long time: a low-fat diet (Swank diet) and a modified paleo diet (WahlsElim diet). Here are the main differences between these two diets, which achieve roughly similar results but have very different compositions.

What the studies say

Both the Swank diet and the WahlsElim diet were developed and popularized by doctors, the former as early as the 1950s and the latter at the start of the 21st century. The studies conducted on this diet are essentially case studies or uncontrolled clinical trials for multiple sclerosis. Their results are encouraging: less fatigue, faster walking, and better mood after 3 to 12 months. But here, too, the level of evidence is not quite sufficient to conclude the real effectiveness of this diet. Let’s know about these diets in detail:

Swank diet- Dr. Roy Swank assumed that multiple sclerosis resulted from vascular dysfunction in the nervous system. He developed a special diet based on epidemiological studies available in 1948 and consistent with that which was developed simultaneously against cardiovascular disease: low in fat and particularly saturated fat. He also recommended taking cod liver oil, eating fish three times a week, and taking a multivitamin supplement. He also encouraged his patients to rest at midday (30 min to 2 h nap) and to manage their stress well.

Dr. Swank followed 150 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis between 1953 and 2003. Only 47 of them continued the Swank diet after two years. Results: those who were the least affected at the start are those who benefited the most from the diet, which enabled them to reduce the intensity and frequency of flare-ups as well as fatigue. 13 of the 15 patients are still alive 50 years after the start of the experiment were still able to move around, live at home and take care of themselves (at an age between 72 and 84). Existing studies on this diet are mostly case and pilot studies conducted by Dr. Swank and his teams and have not been controlled (i.e., they do not have a control group to compare the results to). They also concern a small number of patients. This limits their scope.

Modified paleo diet- The modified paleo diet was devised in 2008 by Dr. Terry Wahls, who has the disease herself. Initially, it focused on providing as many key nutrients for neuronal health as possible, based on the paleo diet and existing scientific studies. Then in a second step, in 2015, it also included the elimination of certain foods suspected of increased intestinal permeability and inflammation of the central nervous system (foods rich in lectins, and antinutrients, such as eggplant or tomato and some cereals). His patients were also encouraged to exercise, benefit from electrical muscle stimulation, meditate, and self-massage.

These two diets are, therefore, both very popular with patients, with a globally similar result. Many clinical trials for multiple sclerosis are underway to try to decide between them since it aims to compare their effectiveness with respect to each other. They are very different in their composition and, according to the tastes of each, more or less easy to follow. And remember, it’s not just taste preferences that matter: the diet that appeals to you the least may also be the most effective in reducing MS symptoms.

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