Watch Ivy’s FOX News Interview with Dr. Manny Alvarez discussing the MS Diet
Ivy was diagnosed at the University of Miami while Andy was still a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Although Ivy had just had an episode of urinary retention that had landed her in the emergency room (she was wearing a catheter when she was diagnosed), her neurologist said she was in the early stages of the disease.
From the beginning, Ivy was given hope that she had a good chance of living well with MS by modifying her lifestyle, particularly her diet. Although Ivy was given the option of beginning one of the disease-modifying FDA-approved medications for MS, for various reasons Ivy chose to try a natural approach to managing the symptoms of her MS first. While large studies published in prestigious medical journals such as the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (1) and Lancet (2) and smaller-scale studies published in less widely known journals (3), basic science studies (4) and high-quality epidemiological studies (5) have all linked real-life human (not rat, not chimpanzee, not mouse) multiple sclerosis with dietary changes and while this approach has worked well for Ivy for over a decade (Ivy is now almost 35 years old) we acknowledge MS is different for everyone and that a natural lifestyle modification approach emphasizing nutritional therapy is not necessarily the best treatment for every person with MS. However, if you or a loved one you know has MS it is important to realize that whether or not you chose to take medication has absolutely nothing to do with whether you adopt a healthy lifestyle. Without a doubt every person with MS should live as healthy a lifestyle as they possibly can. Lifestyle modification is not a cure for MS, but as of right now, neither is the medication.
MS is an autoimmune disease that damages the protective fatty myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. When the immune system goes into overdrive it produces an inflammatory response that strips away the myelin and causes nerve scarring. This impairs the transmission of nerve impulses and it’s what causes the numerous different symptoms of MS. The central nervous system can sometimes regenerate damaged nerve tissue—but only if there is minimal demyelination. A key way to reduce MS relapses is to reduce the inflammation that causes the demyelination in the first place.
Together we have spent over a decade researching holistic nutrition and lifestyle modification for the management of MS as well as numerous other inflammatory conditions. We have concluded the lifestyle someone with MS should follow is the same healthy lifestyle anyone should follow who wants to live long and live well and this includes adhering to the following basic guidelines (aka my Multiple Sclerosis Diet):
- Eating a nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory diet based on unrefined whole foods with an emphasis on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.) and a de-emphasis on land animal foods (beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, etc.)
- Significantly reducing saturated fat from animal foods and completely eliminating trans fats (these fats are thought to stimulate the Th1 response, the release of myelin-damaging inflammatory chemicals by immune cells)
- Increasing intake of omega-3 fats from seafood and vegan sources (particularly flax and chia seeds).
- Stress management
- Nutritional supplements (specifically with omega-3 essential fats and vitamin D-3)
- A moderate fitness program combining cardiovascular exercise with strength training, flexibility/ stretching and stability/ balancing exercises
Managing Your Symptoms with the Multiple Sclerosis Diet (MS Diet)
The purpose of dietary modification for the management of MS is multifactorial:
1) Anyone with any autoimmune disease should consume as many nutrient-dense calories and as few empty-calories as possible in order for the immune system to have the best chance of functioning best. Specific to MS, a broad spectrum of nutrients is essential in order for the brain to repair itself.
2) MS is a disease made worse by inflammation—the immune system has different ways it can damage the brain and there are major variations in the amount of damage inflammation causes. Each time you have an exacerbation or flare-up the inflammation that occurs has the potential to cause debilitating symptoms. And yet by modifying the foods you eat to include more anti-inflammatory foods and fewer pro-inflammatory foods you can help prevent the inflammatory flare-ups that cause MS symptoms. You are not “curing” MS with diet; you are simply controlling the symptoms and helping to prevent future damage.
3) Eating a nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory diet is also the best diet for weight management and maintaining a healthy body weight makes living with MS much easier. Additionally, it is important to avoid overeating excessive amounts of empty-calories as doing so can put the body’s inflammatory process into overdrive.
4) Getting the proper nutrition and avoiding empty calories is essential for having energy and combating the overwhelming fatigue so many MS patients find debilitating.
What to Know more about the MS Diet?
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References for the Multiple Sclerosis Diet:
1. Bates D, et al. “A double-blind controlled trial of long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1989 Jan; 52 (1): 18-22.
2. Swank RL, Dugan BB. “Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis.” Lancet. 1990 Jul 7; 336(8706): 37-9.
3. Nordvik I, et al. “Effect of dietary advice and n-3 supplementation in newly diagnosed MS patients.” Acta Neurol Scand. 2000 Sept; 102(3):143-9.
4. Gallai V, et al. “Cytokine secretion and eicosanoid production in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of MS patients undergoing dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” J Neuroimmunol. 1995 Feb; 56(2): 143-53.
5. Esparaza ML, et al. “Nutrition, latitude, and multiple sclerosis mortality, an ecologic study.” Am J Epidemiol. 1995 Oct 1; 142(7): 733-7.