The “wellness” industry is big business. How big? $4.2 trillion. And it smartly has a laser focus on chronic illnesses because we folks have a vested interest in being, well, well. Multiple sclerosis is a particularly lucrative market, as our population is estimated to be 1 million in the US alone, and over 2.5 million worldwide. When it comes to diets and supplements and alternative therapies, there are myriad opinions, indeed virtually every MS website and social media page has its cheerleaders. But they may not be cheering in your best interest. Dave from ActiveMSers breaks down what you need to know.
So you want to get a handle on your multiple sclerosis. You’ve already heard about the importance of taking a disease modifying therapy, exercise, eating healthy, and stopping smoking. But what about all those other things you should be doing to reign in your disease that you’ve read and heard about? What specific diet should you be on? What supplements should you take? What extra treatments should you look into?
What I’m about to say won’t thrill you. I don’t know.
It is estimated that as many as 75 percent of people with multiple sclerosis modify their diets and/or take supplements. Certainly, eating healthier and losing weight is good for you, period. So is avoiding crystal meth, poorly-packed parachutes, and street gangs. But when it comes to multiple sclerosis, no diets (Swank, Jelinek, Wahls, anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, et al.) have been shown to have any scientifically proven effect on the disease. No supplements (fish oil, turmeric, et al.) have been shown to have any scientifically proven effect on the disease. No non-FDA approved procedures and treatments (removing mercury fillings, CCSVI, LDN, et al.) have been shown to have any scientifically proven effect on the disease. And armies of vocal fans on the internet preaching their graces doesn’t make it any more scientifically proven.
Arg! Yes, it is frustrating. While MS studies have found Ginkgo Biloba does nothing for cognition, that statins don't reduce relapses, and that bee sting therapy, well, just plain hurts, little is conclusive in the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Diets in particular are hard to study because of compliance. Now Vitamin D may hold some small promise... but studies are at best mixed and taking too much can make your MS worse. Excess salt may ramp up disease progression... in mice with an MS-like disease when they consume enough NaCl to kill a horse. Lowering stress, which research suggests may be associated to relapses, is good (who wants stress?) but not proven to influence the disease. My personal favorite study is the one that found moderate alcohol intake may have a neuroprotective effect. But sorry, I’m not about to tell you to booze it up.
Bottom line: some of these lifestyle changes and treatments may help—and may even help in a big way... or do absolutely nothing at all. So if you want to go on an anti-inflammatory, dairy-free, turmeric-laden vegan diet (gads, no more corndogs or mountains of Cheetos) it almost certainly won’t hurt you—and you'll probably lose weight and feel better. It just might not help your MS, either. My best advice: talk to your neurologist and tell him or her exactly what you are taking to avoid dangerous drug interactions (or unnecessary treatment; e.g., Biotin can trick docs into thinking you have thyroid issues), do your own research on reputable sites, and please tread carefully when it comes to unproven remedies touted on the internet. Regretfully, the CAM market, as I’ve personally discovered, is rife with scammers and hucksters.
I’m all for CAM if done smartly and cost efficiently, especially if it doesn’t interrupt what is proven to give you an edge over this disease. Be active, stay fit and keep exploring!