Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common neurological disorders. It affects around 400,000 U.S. adults and over 2.1 million people worldwide, and it’s two to three times more common among women than men (1, 2).

This article explains how diet may affect MS and provides a guide for dietary changes that may help manage its symptoms.

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that gradually destroys the protective coverings that wrap around your nerve fibers. These coverings are called myelin sheaths.

Over time, this disease can permanently damage your nerves, affecting communication between the brain and body (3).

Symptoms of MS include (3):

  • fatigue
  • tingling and numbness
  • bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • movement difficulties and spasticity
  • impaired vision
  • learning and memory difficulties

MS is highly complex, and the way the disease progresses varies from person to person. Scientists are still not certain what causes MS and how to cure it (4).

Although diet cannot cure MS, some research suggests that making dietary changes may help people with MS better manage their symptoms. This, in turn, may improve their quality of life (5, 6).

Summary

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that gradually destroys the protective coverings, which are called myelin sheaths, that wrap around your nerve fibers. Scientists do not fully understand the disease, and there is no cure.

Currently, there are no official dietary guidelines for people with MS.

No two people with MS experience it the same way (4).

However, scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors may cause the disease, as well as that nutrition can have an influence. The fact that MS is more prevalent in Western countries than in developing nations is one clue that diet may play a key role (7).

That is why dietary guidelines and recommendations for people with MS should aim to help manage symptoms to improve overall quality of life.

Diet may help with MS in several ways, including by preventing or controlling its progression, helping manage its symptoms, and reducing flare-ups.

Ideally, an MS-friendly diet should be high in antioxidants to fight inflammation, high in fiber to aid bowel movements, adequate in calcium and vitamin D to fight osteoporosis, and pack plenty of vitamins and minerals to fight fatigue and promote wellness.

It should also limit foods that have been linked to chronic inflammation and other poor health outcomes, or those that simply make day-to-day activities more difficult for someone with MS.

Some evidence suggests that other dietary patterns, including ketogenic diets, may help improve symptoms in people with MS. However, this research is ongoing, and scientists need to further investigate the role of diet in MS.

A study in 60 people with MS found that fast-mimicking diets and ketogenic diets had potential to treat relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Still, the researchers suggested that more high quality studies on the effects of fast-mimicking diets in humans were needed (8).

Another study that gave people with MS a ketogenic diet found they showed improved symptoms, including reduced fatigue, inflammation, and depression (9).

A separate study found certain nutrients may benefit people with mild to moderate MS, potentially leading to better general functioning, as well as an improved quality of life and ability to move around (10).

The nutrients associated with these positive changes included increased fat, cholesterol, folate, iron, and magnesium intakes. On the other hand, decreased carb intake appeared to be beneficial (10).

Clinical trials investigating the effects of ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting on MS are currently underway (11).

Current evidence suggests that a modified paleolithic diet and taking supplements may help improve perceived fatigue in MS patients (12).

There’s also evidence that people with MS are more likely to be deficient in some nutrients, including vitamins A, B12, and D3 (13).

Preliminary evidence suggests that taking certain vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, antioxidants, plant compounds, and melatonin may help improve some symptoms (13).

Scientists need to do more research before making official recommendations about many of the dietary patterns discussed above. However, preliminary research is promising.

Summary

There are no official dietary guidelines for MS. However, research suggests that making certain dietary changes may help slow disease progression and help manage MS symptoms to improve quality of life.

An MS-friendly diet should help people with MS manage their symptoms.

In particular, it should help control disease progression and aim to minimize the effects that common MS symptoms have on overall quality of life.

Here is a list of foods to include on an MS-friendly diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables: all fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Grains: all grains, such as oats, rice, and quinoa
  • Nuts and seeds: all nuts and seeds
  • Fish: all fish, especially fresh fish and fatty oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D
  • Meats and eggs: eggs and all fresh meats, such as beef, chicken, lamb, and more
  • Dairy products: such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter
  • Fats: healthy fats, such as olive, flaxseed, coconut, and avocado oils
  • Probiotic-rich foods: such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi
  • Beverages: water, herbal teas
  • Herbs and spices: all fresh herbs and spices

In short, the guidelines for an MS-friendly diet are similar to an overall healthy, well-balanced diet. However, it emphasizes consuming more plant-based foods and grains.

That is because plant-based foods and grains are higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and fluid, which can help with MS symptoms, such as constipation, fatigue, and bladder dysfunction.

They’re also higher in plant-based compounds that function as antioxidants, which are molecules that help defend your cells against free radical damage and inflammation. These compounds may help fight inflammation and potentially slow MS progression (14, 15).

Fish, particularly fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, appear to be beneficial for MS, possibly because they’re high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in vitamin D, which can help keep your bones strong when combined with calcium (16, 17, 18).

Current research on the effects of red meat and saturated fat intakes on MS symptoms shows mixed results. However, eating red meat in moderation, while focusing on more fruits, vegetables, and grains, is likely beneficial for people with MS (19, 20).

Dairy products also show mixed results. However, they’re a good source of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and potassium, so you can include them in moderation on an MS-friendly diet (21, 22).

In addition, some research shows that people with MS may have a higher risk of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the small intestine in the presence of gluten (23).

Gluten is a group of proteins in wheat, barley, and rye.

If you have MS and experience extreme discomfort when eating gluten-based products, such as bread, pasta, crackers, and baked goods, it’s important to notify your healthcare provider to see whether you have celiac disease.

People with MS who do not have celiac disease may still benefit from healthy grains in their diet.

Summary

Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, grains, and fish may help with managing MS symptoms. A person with MS may eat red meat and dairy in moderation, as current research on their effects is mixed.

While an MS-friendly diet allows plenty of healthy, delicious options, there are still some food groups you should limit to help manage MS symptoms.

Most of these foods are linked to chronic inflammation. They include processed meats, refined carbs, trans fats, and sugar-sweetened beverages, just to name a few (24, 25, 26).

Here’s a list of foods to avoid if you have MS:

  • Processed meats: such as sausages, bacon, canned meats, and meats that are salted, smoked, or cured
  • Refined carbs: such as white bread, pasta, biscuits, and flour tortillas
  • Fried foods: such as french fries, fried chicken, mozzarella sticks, and doughnuts
  • Junk foods: such as fast food, potato chips, and convenience and frozen meals
  • Trans fats: such as margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: such as energy and sports drinks, soda, and sweet tea
  • Alcohol: limit consumption of all alcoholic beverages when possible

As this article mentions above, some people with MS may have celiac disease. If you have celiac disease, aim to avoid all gluten-based foods, such as foods containing wheat, barley, and rye.

Summary

An MS-friendly diet is similar to an overall healthy diet. It restricts unhealthy foods, such as processed meats, refined carbs, junk foods, and trans fats. These foods do not help manage MS symptoms and may worsen inflammation.

In addition to the diet guidelines above, people with MS may want to consider the following food tips to help manage their symptoms.

  • Make sure you eat enough food. Eating too few calories can cause fatigue.
  • Prep your meals in advance. If you have time, batch-making meals can help you save energy later. If you’re often fatigued, this can be especially helpful.
  • Rearrange your kitchen. Place food, utensils, and other equipment in areas that are close by and easy for you to clean up. This will help you save energy.
  • Try “ready-to-use” items. Buying precut fruits and veggies can help you shave minutes off cooking time and make cooking simpler.
  • Make thicker drinks. If you have difficulty swallowing, preparing thicker beverages like a healthy smoothie may be easier to manage.
  • Soft foods may help. If chewing too much is making you fatigued, try choosing softer foods like baked fish, bananas, avocado, and cooked veggies.
  • Limit crumbly foods. If you have difficulty swallowing or find yourself choking on food often, consider limiting foods that crumble, such as toast and crackers.
  • Reach out for help. Even if you don’t like asking for help, having other members of the household help with small tasks, like preparing meals, cleaning, or simply setting the table, can help ease your fatigue.
  • Stay active. Although exercise can make a person with MS feel fatigued, it’s especially important for helping manage your weight and staying healthy. It’s also important for preventing osteoporosis, which is more common among people with MS.

If you have other MS-related concerns not addressed above, it’s important to notify your healthcare provider. They can offer personalized tips to help you manage your symptoms better.

Summary

The tips listed above can help improve your quality of life with MS by helping you maintain a healthy weight and manage symptoms like fatigue and swallowing issues.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that affects the nervous system.

There are no official dietary guidelines for MS. However, making certain dietary changes may help relieve common MS symptoms, such as constipation and fatigue, as well as improve overall quality of life.

Dietary changes that may help include eating more plant-based foods, grains, and fish.

In addition, avoiding unhealthy foods may help with managing MS symptoms and potentially slow disease progression.

People with MS should avoid certain foods, including processed meats, refined carbs, junk foods, trans fats, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Other tips to manage MS symptoms include making meals in bulk, using “ready-to-use” grocery items, rearranging your kitchen for convenience, choosing foods with appropriate textures, and reaching out for help to manage daily activities.

As with any new diet, it’s important to notify your healthcare provider before making major changes to your diet to manage MS.