Thursday, 26 February 2009

Diet in Multiple Sclerosis

Generally agreed nutritional guidelines for everyone advise us that to maintain our body and nervous system in good health we need to eat more fruit and vegetables and fibre, and less saturated fat. Advice to those with multiple sclerosis is basically to follow good nutrition, while adding extra sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Oily fish are rich sources of two EFA's in the Omega 3 group, and pure vegetable oils, such as Sunflower and Safflower oils, rich sources of linoleic acid, which is part of the Omega 6 group.
A good balanced diet will achieve two objectives:
• Supply the body with the nutrients it needs to keep healthy, while avoiding potentially damaging ingredients.
• Prevent excessive weight gain - a hazard for those who are less mobile than they used to be (and even the "healthy" population is reported to be getting heavier all the time)
There is much scientific evidence indicating that an appropriate nutritional balance and diet have a positive role in MS. Studies looking at the area of the world where MS occurs have shown that its incidence is closely correlated to the consumption of saturated fats. These are present in full fat dairy products, meat and confectionery.
The brain and nervous system are composed of approximately 60% fat, a large proportion of which is derived from the essential fatty acids. Investigations have shown that the levels of essential fatty acids in the blood have tended to be low in some people with long-standing MS.
One of the essential fatty acids is linoleic acid which is found in polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower and safflower. It was demonstrated that patients given unsaturated fats had a reduced number and severity of relapses and Professor R. L. Swank in the USA has been advising MS people to adhere to the low-fat diet for 30 years. His findings of reduced relapses and slowing of the disease progression compare favourably with the natural history of patients on a normal diet.
In the diet recommended by the Therapy Centres, the consumption of essential fatty acids is increased and that of saturated fats decreased. This nutritional programme also includes increased consumption of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fibre which are important for general health.
A three-year research study on this diet indicated reduced frequency and duration of relapses plus no significant deterioration in patient's condition.
A more recent trial (April 2002) at the state University of New York at Buffalo "suggests that a very low fat diet (15%) with supplemental Omega3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid was very well tolerated and may have a beneficial effect on disease parameters in patients with RR-MS"

Healthy Eating
Various diets have been recommended over the years, but the MS healthy eating plan has proved most beneficial for the majority of people

Health eating
for MS is based on research
and specifically:- The incidence of MS varies from country to country. It seems to be lower where polyunsaturated fats are eaten in preference to saturated.
Scientific research has shown that those who followed the healthy eating plan carefully had fewer, less severe relapses. General health either improved or stayed the same.
People with MS tend to have an altered pattern of fats in the blood. This can be corrected, as long as the healthy eating plan is followed.

Healthy Foods are Readily Available

The aim
With the increased awareness of the importance of healthy eating, many low fat and high fibre foods, including some convenience meals, are available from food stores. There has never been a better time to follow a Healthy Eating Plan.
This way of eating is low in fat and should include foods high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Following the healthy eating plan will benefit the whole family, although children under 5 years will need more fat and less fibre. Similar dietary recommendations are made for reducing the incidence of heart disease, certain cancers and for the treatment of diabetes.
The aim is to eat less fat, particularly saturated fat (generally hard animal fats). See USA govt advice for everyone on fat

However, you still need adequate amounts of polyunsaturated fat (soft vegetable based fats and fish oils). Polyunsaturated fats are made up of smaller units known as essential fatty acids (EFA's) - essential because our bodies are unable to make these substances which have many important functions. For example, they are vital to the immune system, brain and nervous systems.

As nature does not supply us with EFA without some saturated fat it makes it all the more important to keep down the level of saturated fat from other food.

"Omega 3" and "Omega 6"

Oily fish are rich sources of two EFA's in the Omega 3 group, and pure vegetable oils, such as Sunflower and Safflower oils, rich sources of linoleic acid, which is part of the Omega 6 group. The body uses linoleic acid to make an important EFA called arachidonic acid. Liver is an excellent source of arachidonic acid and should be eaten weekly (1/4lb, 100g).

For more about the healthy MS diet see Food for thought

Other diets
There are several other diets which have been widely publicised as being helpful to people with MS. Some are more extreme than others.
For instance the Paleolithic diet is restricted to foods which were eaten in the early Stone Age, arguing that the human digestive system evolved to deal only with these and cannot cope with "modern" introductions such as dairy products, meat from domesticated animals, refined sugar, and farmed cereals. Part of the regime advises cutting out those foods which contain gluten, a component of many cereal crops used for bread and pasta, as an intolerance to this causes some MS-like symptoms. Most nutritionists do not accept that these extreme measures are necessary, but they may help some people.
The most sensible approach to diet, for people with MS as for everyone else, is to find out all you can on general nutrition and make sure that, on the one hand you are eating enough of all the essentials, and on the other you are NOT eating all those foods (many of them delicious and enticing) which make you obese, or any which have been proved to affect you adversely.
There are standard medical tests which will establish food allergies and sensitivities, and your GP can either test you or direct you elsewhere. But bear in mind that a firm which also hopes to make profits by selling you expensive specialised foodstuffs could be a little bit biased in diagnosing whether or not you need them.
Certainly, eating the right foods can help everyone to live longer. See the report of the American Medical association.

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