Fish oil. Low fat. Vitamin D. Less salt. Certain foods promote health and decrease the risk of many diseases in the general population; now they're being studied to see if they specifically reduce the symptoms and progression of MS. The jury's still out, but one thing is for certain: It's not just what you eat -- how and when you eat is important, too. Here are some tips on how you can incorporate a healthy way of eating for you and your loved one with MS:
Try low fat. The benefits of a low-fat diet in easing the symptoms of MS were first proposed 50 years ago by Dr. Roy Swank, a medical researcher and neurologist from the Oregon Health and Sciences University. Scientists continue to research the connection between low fat and MS, but many doctors strongly advise low-fat diets, with the knowledge that they also lower the risk of other disorders of concern to a person with MS.
Eat more veggies. In a recent study led by Dr. Arif Awad and published in International Immunopharmacology, the plant compounds beta-sitosterols were found to reduce inflammation in white cells.
Check your oils. Good oil is a necessary component in a low-fat diet, and some oils are better than others. A recent study suggested that olive oil, used in conjunction with MS therapies and a low-fat diet, reduced fatigue.
Switch to low-fat dairy and protein. Use low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and reduce the amount of red meat in the diet. Think of animal protein as being the smallest part of the meal.
Take in more omega-3s. Some studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids, in the oil present in fatty fish like salmon and in some plants (especially seeds), to be of benefit. For that reason, many doctors advise taking fish oil pills.
Increase the vitamin D and calcium. Studies suggest that vitamin D, found in fatty fish and added to milk, juice, and cereals, has anti-inflammatory effects and may lessen the frequency and severity of MS symptoms. Additionally, those who have MS are at greater risk of osteoporosis, so vitamin D and calcium are important in preventing bone loss and fractures. The Mayo Clinic advises not going above 4,000 units of vitamin D or 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily.
Lighten up on the salt. It's too early to know if this applies to humans, but a recent study has shown high salt intake to accelerate symptoms of MS in mice. Until more is known, it's safe to stay away from too much salt.
Drink water. Dehydration adds to fatigue, one of the most common symptoms of MS. So stay hydrated with plenty of water.
Add fiber. Sometimes constipation is an effect of MS, and whole-grain cereals, breads, and grains promote good bowel function.
Add tea and spice. Spice up your meals and settle down with a cup of tea: Studies suggest that ginger and turmeric, often used in Indian foods, cut down on inflammation. So does green tea.
3 Tips to Help With Meal Planning and Multiple Sclerosis
When you're planning meals for someone with multiple sclerosis, keep the following tips in mind:
Timing is everything. Reduce fatigue by scheduling many small meals. Eating healthy foods at scheduled intervals during the day keeps energy up.
Reduce the size of bites. Sometimes MS affects the ability to swallow; use smaller bites and softer foods as the day wears on.
Plan ahead. MS affects bowel and bladder function. Get most of your water while at home, near a comfortable bathroom.
Take a seat. If you're prepping meals together, make sure there's room for everyone to sit. Sitting down during meal prep can help conserve energy and minimize spills or slips of the knife.
Remember: When taking care of someone with MS, you also get to learn about what helps minimize fatigue, stress, and disease in your own body. While helping someone else, you can help yourself.