Diet and Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system which interferes with the nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Over time it can slow or block the nerve signals that control how well your muscles work together, and how strong they are. It may also cause tingling or pain in parts of your body, and decreased vision (double vision or blurred vision).

MS affects over 23,000 in Australia and more than two million people worldwide. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40, but it can affect younger and older people too. Roughly three times as many women have MS as men.

There is currently no known cure for MS, however, there are a number of treatment options available to help manage symptoms and slow progression of the disease.

Nutrition and MS

Due to the many phases in which MS can present itself, nutrition recommendations may differ depending on the severity and symptoms presented. 

Some people may be overweight or obese, while others may be underweight. As the disease progresses, some people develop swallowing difficulties and other eating problems. There is also a higher risk of having low levels of certain vitamins and minerals in people living with MS. Because MS can affect people differently, it is recommended that you see a Registered Dietitian to make sure you meet your nutritional needs, which can change over time. If you are having swallowing difficulties, or any other problem that makes eating difficult, talk with your doctor.

Steps you can take

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet by following: Australian Healthy Eating food Guidelines or “Eat for Health” at https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/ will ensure that you meet your 5 core food groups appropriate for your age and gender to ensure you avoid missing out on essential nutrients. There are many “alternative” diets, such as very low fat, allergen-free and gluten-free diets that claim to help decrease symptoms or to stop the MS from getting worse. These diets can be low in important nutrients, very low in fat or ask you to strictly avoid many foods. Because of this, they can be harmful, especially if you are already malnourished. They have also not been proven to be helpful and not enough strong evidence has been conducted to see significant links between therapeutic diets on reducing symptoms. It is important to maintain a healthy weight. If you experience unintended weight loss or weight gain occurs, contact your doctor or dietitian. Reduced mobility can lead to less energy expenditure and may result in overweight or obesity. Some medications, like steroids and antidepressants, can also cause weight gain.

Important nutrients/nutrients at risk

Calcium and vitamin D.

People with MS have a higher risk of low bone mineral density and therefore a higher risk of fractures and broken bones. This may be due to low vitamin D and calcium in the diet, or other factors such as reduced physical activity, such as walking. Good food sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices, tofu with added calcium and canned fish with the bones. Good food sources of vitamin D include milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices, fatty fish, such as salmon, and eggs. If you do not eat these foods daily, you should discuss adding a daily supplement with your doctor or dietitian.

Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people with MS. Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause a type of anemia that can make you feel tired. Good food sources of vitamin B12 are dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and fortified soy and rice beverages. It is recommended that people over 50 take a vitamin B12 supplement because as you get older, you don’t absorb the vitamin B12 from food very well.

Zinc and selenium.

Zinc and selenium deficiencies are common in people with MS. Zinc is needed for the growth and repair of body cells. Selenium works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage. Good food sources of zinc are meat, seafood, dried beans, peas, and lentils, and whole grains. Good food sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, seafood, fish and shellfish, liver and kidney. If these are foods that you don’t eat regularly, you may need a supplement. The amounts in a multivitamin-mineral supplement are usually enough.

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