Diet And Exercise To Treat Multiple Sclerosis

diet and exercise to treat multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, or MS as it is termed, is a disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). MS affects the brain or the spinal cord and can disrupt the flow of information within the brain as well as between the brain and the body.1 The disease results in the immune system attacking its own tissues and destroying myelin, the fatty coating of the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.

Estimates suggest that more than 100,000 people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the UK. Most of them are in their 20s or 30s.2 It’s a disabling and unpredictable disease, the cause of which is still unknown. While it is believed to be an autoimmune disease, the trigger is yet to be identified.


Symptoms Of Multiple Sclerosis

MS affects the nervous system and causes nerve damage. The symptoms can be shown on any part of the body and could vary from individual to individual. This also makes diagnosis very difficult. Depending on the type of MS the individual has been diagnosed with, the symptoms may come and go or become steadily worse.3 The main symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Vision problems
  • Bladder control problems
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Stiffness and spasms in muscles
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Cognitive problems
  • Learning and planning problems4

Types Of Multiple Sclerosis

MS has been categorized based on how it affects the individual and how the disease progresses. The three major types of MS identified are:


Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS): Individuals have distinct attacks of symptoms which then go away almost completely. New symptoms, however, will occur. Hence, it is difficult to predict how the disease will affect you.

Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS): Characterized by a worsening of disability, SPMS don’t show any relapses. SPMS follows RRMS.


Primary Progressive MS (PPMS): Like the name suggests, the disease is progressive from the onset itself. There are no relapses and the symptoms slowly get worse over time.5

Treatment For Multiple Sclerosis

Currently, there is no cure for MS. Treatment focuses on symptoms and on managing them. So, many turn to complementary and alternative medicines (CAMS) as an option. CAMS include various types of interventions to treat a disease. From regulating food and diet to practicing yoga or calisthenics, most CAM approaches are gaining popularity among MS patients.6


Organic Food And Clean Diet

While MS specialists do not believe that any particular food product or diet can cure MS, CAMS therapists believe a diet rich in organic and whole foods and free of any processed foods can work wonders. MS patients are advised to cut down on gluten and sugar because these two can worsen the symptoms and sugar lowers the immune responses and can cause systemic inflammation and premature aging. Red meat, salt, animal fats, and low fiber are some other culprits.7

Here are certain foods that can keep MS in check:


1. Tea, Have It Black Or Green

Be it black or green, tea is full of antioxidants.8 Studies have shown that oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of MS. In fact, research shows that treatment with antioxidants shows much promise in preventing the spread of tissue damage.9 Hence, tea can be used as an easy natural remedy for MS treatment.

2. Lower The Fat With Coconut Oil

A low-fat saturated diet is ideal for an MS patient. This ensures the body doesn’t deteriorate rapidly. A diet of up to 20 g of fat per day was prescribed as ideal for MS patients.10 That’s where virgin coconut oil, with its lipid-lowering properties, comes into play.11 Coconut oil also contains large amounts of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA is a rich source of support for the brain as well as the nervous system. Additionally, phenolic compounds and hormones found in coconut are believed to assist in preventing the aggravation of neurodegeneration.12


3. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like omega-3 and omega-6 are found naturally in a lot of foods and also in supplement form. In the case of MS, PUFAs are believed to be helpful in reducing the severity and length of relapses.13 While research on this is limited, many believe that PUFAs play an important role as disease-modifying and anti-inflammatory agents in the treatment of MS.14 Walnuts, flax seed and oil, fish, sunflower seeds, etc are rich sources of PUFA.

4. Get Some Gut Bacteria In

Commonly known as the good bacteria, probiotics are similar to the microorganisms found in the human body. They are readily available in the form of supplements and yogurts. Probiotics are believed to help avoid malabsorption of nutrients in people with MS. Animal studies show that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in the progression of the demyelinating disease and that the modulation of the microbiome can lead to either exacerbation or amelioration of MS symptoms.15 In general, studies show that probiotics may have anti-inflammatory properties that may boost immune and neurological health.16


Can Exercises Help To Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Exercise offers many benefits for people with MS. A growing number of studies show that those suffering from mild to moderate MS stand to gain a lot from regular exercise–it can improve and maintain functional capacity as well as provide various psychological benefits. This is especially true in the case of exercises that aim to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, mobility, and muscle strength.17 Studies also show that MS patients can both tolerate and benefit from endurance training at low to moderate intensity as well as resistance training of moderate intensity.18

5. Moderate Exercise Is The Best

Opt for a moderate exercise regimen. Studies show that neurotrophins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and nerve growth factor (NGF) play a neuroprotective role in MS. Moderate exercise was shown to increase BDNF production and basal NGF levels.19 Moreover, a clear correlation exists between exercise and mental health.20 These exercise patterns chosen for individual patients need to be designed to activate working muscles. Avoid overworking them, though.21

6. Yoga Can Help, Too

One of the best natural treatment for MS is probably yoga which is found to have a significant role to play in improving fatigue in people with MS.22 Doing yoga on a regular basis is also shown to improve balance, speed and endurance of walking, as well as the quality of life in MS patients.23

7. Mindfulness With Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art form that integrates physical exercise and mindful movement. Mindful movement can be very broadly explained as moving your body and noticing or focusing on everything your body does when making that move. Much like yoga, it involves being aware. Studies have shown that training in mindful movement can help with symptom management in MS.24 Tai Chi has been shown to be effective in various neurological issues, especially in patients with motoric deficits as it challenges coordination and balance.25

Multiple Sclerosis Causes Stress And Vice Versa

Different types of stress affect different people in different ways. In MS patients, stress can be caused due to the debilitating nature of their illness, and this can even lead to depression. Stress could also aggravate MS symptoms.26 Stress management is one way to deal with it.27

Having MS should not worry you. There are ways to treat it and lead a normal life. Follow these recommendations and see if they work for you.