Take home message: We now know the microbiome impacts inflammation in the brain and MS. Watch Terry Wahls TEDx talk (below) and then consider following her protocol which is found in more detail in her book “Minding My Mitochondria” and the “Wahls Protocol.” Remember that while currently this is a small sample-size study but is also low risk with possible high reward.
The medium version:
Recent research at Harvard has confirmed the gut-brain-immune system connection. For the first time the researchers confirmed that food has direct control on inflammation in the brain. Ultimately this means that diet may be a therapeutic target in the future for treating MS, but the difficulties of doing a large control study mean it maybe difficult to tease out all the potential confounding factors.
Many diets are touted as being catch-all cures for all diseases, particularly for diseases where we know little information and where the Western treatments are not that good (yet). These claims are probably a bit optimistic, though do not discount the effect of diet on your body. We know it helps! And it will likely give other benefits than just impacting your MS. A few of the most common MS diets heralded are the Swank diet, the Evers diet, the Raw Food Vegan diet, and the Paleo diet.
Wahl’s Protocol and Autoimmune Paleo diet: The diets I find the most convincing are the autoimmune paleo diet by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne and the Wahls protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls. Dr. Wahls has MS herself and has since started running trials with similar results to her own and Dr. Ballantyne is a scientist also with an autoimmune disease specializing in inflammation and immune biochemistry. The Wahls diet consists of eliminating allergenic foods such as gluten, grains, and dairy and eating 9 cups of fruits and veggies per day along with seaweed, fatty wild fish, high quality organ meats, and grass-fed/pastured/wild meats. Sarah Ballantyne further recommends eliminating known inflammatory foods such as spices and nightshades to further calm the immune system.
Fasting: Some new and exciting research has also come out about the effects of intermittent fasting on MS. First tested in mouse models and then also in humans, they found that by fasting at low caloric intake (10% – 50%) for 3 continuous days per week for 3 cycles lead to critical repair cells being activated and disease activity being reduced. In 20% of mice, their MS was completely resolved permanently. This cycle of fasting appears to reboot the immune system, lower inflammation and increase cellular repair, including remyelination. In the human trial they did one week at 10% normal caloric intake (similar to a juice fast protocol) and only one cycle followed by 6 months of a Mediterranean diet or ketogenic diet.
Coffee: Coffee, in particular caffeine, may have benefits in neuroprotection and remylination as well as decreasing the risk of getting MS. There might be other benefits to coffee than caffeine though as the same benefits were not noticed in tea or soda drinkers.
The Swank diet: recommends an incredibly low intake of saturated fat and a modest intake of monounsaturated fats. Followed 135 patients for 40 years. They claim great results, however the diet study is considered to be low quality because it wasn’t double blind.
The Evers diet: Done in Germany around 50 years ago and most literature on it is in German. It is basically a Raw Food Paleo diet where you mostly eat foods our ancestors ate, including some meat. The vegetables and milk are eaten raw. He claimed he say 12,000 MS patients over the course of his career and noticed a 95% success rate. He however did not run anything scientifically so these percentages could be highly biased.
Raw Food Vegan: Also promises a lot of success. Has a lot of similarities with the Paleo diet in that both are eliminating bad foods from your diet, which is maybe just as important as what you do eat. It is hard to follow and to get enough energy. If you try it, I recommend getting some DVDs on “uncooking” which provide a lot of tips to make preparation much faster and more interesting.
All these diets have some things in common. Similar to Michael Pollan’s famous quote: “Eat real food, mostly vegetables, not too much.” This is the basic upshot. With any autoimmune disease you want to focus on nutrient rich foods.