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Nutrition and multiple sclerosis

  

Everybody with multiple sclerosis (MS) is different. Some people may be overweight and some may be underweight. Others could have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals or may have trouble swallowing.

If you have MS, work with your doctor and Registered Dietitian to develop a nutrition plan for your needs. Here are some things to discuss with your health care team.  

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. MS blocks the nerve signals that control how strong your muscles are and how well they work.

Each person’s experience with MS is a little bit different. People with MS may feel good one day and then feel painful symptoms the next day. Symptoms are also different from person to person. Common symptoms are pain, weakness, reduced mobility and vision problems.

While treatment for MS is different for each person, the tips below may help you feel better.  These are:

  • Taking medication as prescribed by your doctor
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Being physically active
  • Making healthy food choices using Canada's Food Guide

Can going on a special diet help with MS?

There is not one MS treatment that works well for everyone, since people may have different symptoms. Many types of special diets have been suggested to help manage MS. However, none of these diets have proven to be helpful.

Popular special MS diets usually limit certain foods or nutrients, such as wheat, dairy or fat. These diets can be low in important vitamins or minerals, which can be harmful if you are already under weight or are not getting enough of some nutrients.

If you have MS, following Canada's Food Guide will provide you with all the nutrients you need.  Do not go on a special diet without talking to a Registered Dietitian. If you do want to make changes to the foods you eat, a Registered Dietitian can help you come up with a plan that meets your needs.

What nutrition changes are recommended?

If you have MS, you are at greater risk for being low in some vitamins and minerals, including the following:

Calcium and vitamin D

Some people with MS have low bone mineral density and are more likely to break bones or get osteoporosis. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include:

  • milk products (milk, yogurt and cheese)
  • fortified soy beverages
  • tofu with added calcium
  • canned fish with bones.

Good sources of vitamin D include milk, fortified soy beverages and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

Vitamin B12

Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause anemia and make you feel tired. Foods that contain vitamin B12 include milk products, fortified soy beverages, eggs, meat, fish and poultry. 

Selenium

This trace mineral is often low in people with MS. Good sources are Brazil nuts, seafood and fish.

Zinc

Zinc deficiency is common in people with MS. Good sources are meat, seafood, whole grains, dried beans and lentils.

In addition to eating the right foods, you may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements to get enough of these nutrients. Work with your doctor to learn how much (what dose) is right for you. There is no proof that taking very high doses of these nutrients is helpful, so make sure to follow your doctor’s advice. 

What lifestyle changes are recommended?

Stay active

This may be difficult as you may get tired easily or find moving painful, but it is important to try. Regular exercise such as walking, swimming or stretching can help maintain healthy muscles. Being active can also help control your weight and reduce fatigue.  Pick an activity you like and that you can do on a regular basis. If you’re new to physical activity, speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before getting started so that you can come up with an activity plan that works for you.

Be aware of your weight

Some people with MS may lose weight if they have a poor appetite or if they are too tired to cook. Some people may have trouble swallowing. It is important to alert your health care team if you notice that you are losing weight.  

Try physical therapy

You may benefit from therapy to help you maintain balance and reduce muscle weakness. Speak to your doctor for a referral.

Should I take herbal products?

You may have tried different herbal products, such as St. John's wort, ginseng, echinacea and valerian, to improve or prevent MS symptoms. Right now, no herbal products are recommended for MS due to safety concerns. Some herbs can react badly with the medicines you are taking. If you do choose to take herbal products, make sure to discuss it with your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist.

Bottom Line

Since each person’s experience with MS is a little bit different, you need to find a nutrition plan that works for you. No special diets been proven to prevent MS or affect the way it may develop. Begin your care plan by eating well and staying active. A healthy lifestyle will benefit not only how you feel physically - but it can help your emotional health too.

If you have more questions about MS and nutrition, an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian can send you more detailed information. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

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Last Update – October 9, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.