Multiple Sclerosis Ms Lifestyle Nutrition

For multiple sclerosis, as with any illness, a nutritious diet, vitamins and exercise can improve your overall health and lifestyle.

Staking Diet Claims

Some diet researchers claim that multiple sclerosis can be treated through the proper diet. While some of these diets may improve symptoms of the disease in the short run, they may also be restrictive and exclude important nutrients. Follow nutritional guidelines that offer the most benefit with the least risk.

Your doctor or doctor-recommended registered dietician is a good source of information on whether certain dietary restrictions or additions might be beneficial. Overall, a balanced diet with varied grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and other proteins provides the best food energy.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for all of us, but takes on a new meaning for the person with multiple sclerosis. Maintaining weight and reducing fat prevents extra stress on the heart and also reduces unnecessary fatigue, one of the key symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

If you’re already at a healthy weight, be aware of your portion sizes and daily diet. Fatigue and depression, sometimes brought on by multiple sclerosis, are symptoms that cause people to eat unhealthy foods, such as those high in carbohydrates and fat. These are comfort foods and initially feel satisfying. Unfortunately, foods high in simple carbohydrates are processed quickly by the body and cause us to feel hungry soon after we eat them. Choose foods high in protein or complex carbohydrates instead.

Proteins and Cellular Health

An important aspect of nutrition for people with multiple sclerosis is a diet that maintains healthy cells. Proteins are key components of a healthy cell. Proteins provide structure, function and energy to cells. The antibodies we use to ward off infections are made up of proteins. Low-fat cheeses, meats, nuts and beans are good sources of protein for the cells and keep the body feeling full longer.

Vitamins and Minerals

Protein alone is not adequate nutrition for any diet. Fruits and vegetables provide the body with the vitamins it needs to feed the cells. The vitamins in fruits and vegetables contribute to the health of our bones, blood, muscles and other organs. Fruits and vegetables provide another benefit: their high-fiber content keeps the body feeling full longer, thus preventing overeating.

The Importance of Fiber in the Multiple Sclerosis Diet

Fruits and vegetables also contain fiber, an important nutrient for persons with multiple sclerosis. Some individuals with MS experience problems with constipation. Constipation is the inability or difficulty of having a bowel movement. Foods that contain fiber help to move materials through the intestines and into the colon. Whole grains like wheat, oats, brown rice and corn are also good sources of fiber. Replace refined grains with whole grains such as brown rice, oat cereals, or wheat pastas. They have enough fiber to keep the system moving as well as keeping the body feeling sated longer.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Proper nutrition should include plenty of fluids, especially water. Water can help to prevent constipation and some of the side effects of medications such as dehydration, dry mouth or loss of appetite. Dehydration can produce severe symptoms like stomach cramping, headaches or tingling in the extremities. Keeping your body hydrated by sipping on water or liquids throughout the day can prevent additional discomfort.

How Calcium Helps

Calcium is a vital part of any diet but is very important for nutrition in people with multiple sclerosis. Low-fat dairy products, green leafy vegetables and certain fish contain calcium. Several product manufacturers are adding calcium to products like bread, cereal and orange juice.

Calcium helps to maintain proper bone mass and prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that makes the bones brittle and susceptible to breaking. New research also credits the calcium in diary products with losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.

Calcium supplements are available to boost the levels of calcium in the body but should not be seen as a substitute for proper nutrition. Caffeine can interfere with the absorption of calcium and should be limited in the diet.

Trouble with Swallowing

Some patients with multiple sclerosis have trouble swallowing. These patients may benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals. Refraining from foods like crackers, chips and cakes that crumble easily reduces the risk of choking. Milkshakes, fruit sauces and other drinks thickened with gelatin products can be easier to swallow. Ice cubes or Popsicles® help provide fluid in an easy solid form.

Keeping the Whole Body Healthy

The best companion for diet and nutrition is exercise. While multiple sclerosis can impose exercise limits on some individuals, some movement should be part of the daily routine. Range of motion exercises, short walks or other activities are an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy body and a healthy outlook on life.

Resources

Nowack, D., Sarnoff, J. (2003). Food for thought: MS and nutrition.National Multiple Sclerosis Society brochure.

Brunette, J., Carlson, C., Coyle, P.K., Garmany, G.P., Giesser, B.S., Halper, J., Hutchinson, B., et al. (ed). Diets. National MS Society Information Sourcebook, New York, NY (2003).