As soon as I knew I might have MS, I wanted to do something. I had to wait for a diagnosis and medication, but what could I do on my own? I read a lot about MS and treatment, and one of the first things I did was research if diet could impact MS.
The Wahls Protocol was the first diet I found. There is a book, a lot of resources online, and it is often recommended in MS forums. The Wahls Protocol was created by Dr. Terry Wahls, who has MS and credits diet, at least in part, to improving her MS and getting her out of a wheelchair. The Wahls Protocol is a Paleo-style diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, allows some meat, and eliminates eggs, dairy, sugar, and processed foods.
Before my MS journey, I had tried many diets. I was a vegetarian from age 12 to 25. When I began eating meat, I added poultry and seafood, but I never added beef or pork back into my diet. I’ve done Whole 30, Paleo, I’ve cut sugar, carbs, dairy, all at different times and to different degrees. I’ve struggled with my weight and healthy eating my whole life, and gained and lost large amounts of weight, through various diets and exercise.
Before COVID, my diet was basically a Paleo diet, but not overly strict. I ate lean meats and eggs, limited dairy, limited carbs, limited sugar, and limited processed foods. And, I had started intermittent fasting in 2019, which I really liked and made me feel great. The stress of 2020, with COVID, lockdowns, and the constant uncertainty, led to a lot of comfort food, junk food, and a lot of alcohol. I gained a lot of weight, my clothes didn’t fit, and I felt terrible. I finally decided that was enough, and started eating a more Paleo diet again and went back to longer fasting periods. Then, when I lost my vision and was on steroids, I again felt awful and stressed and was not paying attention to my diet. I ate whatever sounded good and was easy to get, including a lot of delivery because I couldn’t drive or cook. After reading about the Wahls Protocol, I decided I needed to get back on track. I did not read the book or follow the diet strictly, but I did start to eat more fruits and vegetables, and limit eggs, dairy, and sugar.
I knew from my previous experience with intermittent fasting, and all the books and articles I’d read, that it was good for inflammation. And, I’d learned, MS is an inflammatory disease. So, fasting must be good for it, I thought. I have done some reading and there is some evidence that intermittent fasting is good for MS, so I’ve also focused on being consistent with fasting, and trying to do longer fasts. With the stress of MS and working from home and a million other things, I’m not as good about it as I was in 2019, but I try to do a minimum of 16 hours of fasting a day.
Early on I also Googled anti-inflammatory foods. Then, I bought almost everything on the list, and started making smoothies. Greens, berries, ginger, turmeric, and flax seed. I later substituted flax seed oil for flax seed, after reading a study that showed flax seed oil reduces MS relapses. I made these smoothies daily for a while, but I haven’t been doing it lately. I need to get back in the habit, and this warm weather is the perfect time to do it!
In one of my appointments with my MS specialist, I asked if there was anything I could do to slow down or fight MS, besides treatment with a DMT. She said vitamin D was proven to help. My blood was tested and I have a vitamin D deficiency, so I take a high dose every day. I also have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, so I take that as well. I figured a daily vitamin couldn’t hurt, so I added that in as well. I don’t know why doctors don’t advocate for diet changes, but I’ve found a lot of evidence that diet is a big factor in MS and I chose to research and implement the changes on my own.
Overcoming MS is another popular and well-known MS diet. I originally learned about it from its podcast, Living Well with MS. There is also a book, website, and online resources. The Overcoming MS (OMS) diet was created by a medical professor, George Jelinek, after he was diagnosed with MS. It is based on a lot of scientific research. I’ll admit I haven’t read the book, but I’ve listened to the podcast and read about it online. It is not that different from the Wahl’s Protocol. The Overcoming MS diet also eliminates egg yolks, dairy, sugar, and processed foods. The main differences are that OMS doesn’t eliminate gluten, it encourages whole grains, it allows egg whites, and it doesn’t allow any meat, only fish and seafood. In addition to diet, Overcoming MS also encourages Vitamin D, flax seed oil, daily meditation, and daily exercise.
Recently, I also watched the documentary Living Proof, on Amazon Prime. In the documentary, which features Dr. Wahls, it promotes similar dietary changes, such as eliminating dairy, taking vitamin D supplements, and eating a lot of whole foods. However, it also advocates for using these strategies in lieu of medication.
MS organizations recommend the Mediterranean Diet, which is mostly vegetables, grains, poultry and seafood. It limits red meat and eliminates processed foods, sugar, and refined carbs. The Mediterranean diet is similar to the other diets, except it does allow dairy.
But, what about alcohol? The Wahls Protocol says no alcohol, OMS says alcohol is okay in moderation, and most of what I’ve read online is that alcohol is okay in moderation. But, for some people, it can exacerbate MS symptoms. I had been eating healthy leading up to the holidays, but decided to splurge a little for Thanksgiving. I ate my traditional homemade macaroni and cheese, noodles, butter, cheese, and all. I drank several glasses of wine. I ate sugary treats. And, vegetables. I felt awful for days after. I could have been any or all of those things, but, since then, I’ve tried very hard to limit any dairy, sugar, or alcohol. For Christmas, I decided to limit my indulgences more. I skipped a lot of the treats and comfort foods I would normally have, but I did have a little sugar and a drink. And, almost immediately, I felt bad. Since then, I haven’t had alcohol. I’m not a big drinker anyway (aside from the fist several months of quarantine), and it’s just not worth it. I may experiment with it in the future, but so far, I’m happy without it.
Diet is a relatively easy, and relatively inexpensive change I can make to fight MS. There are no side-effects and no harm. Worst-case scenario, it does nothing for MS, but makes me healthier. The diets are not the same, but they have a lot in common. So, I do intermittent fasting. I take vitamin D, B-12, and a multivitamin every day, and flax seed oil when I remember. I avoid dairy, eggs, processed food, and sugar, mostly. Hey, I’m human! For now, I eat whole grains, including gluten, but I’m open to cutting out gluten if there is evidence it helps, or if I find that it helps me. I eat mostly vegan, but eat some fish, seafood, and occasionally, lean poultry. I know I feel better when I eat healthy, but I don’t know how it is impacting my MS, or my likelihood of developing MS.
Diet is the most significant way I’ve been fighting MS on my own, but it isn’t the only way.