Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect people in different ways. For example, some could have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals and others may have trouble swallowing.
If you have MS, work with your dietitian and health care provider to develop a personalized nutrition plan . Read on to learn about some things to discuss with your health care team.
What is multiple sclerosis?
MS is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. MS blocks the nerve signals that control how strong your muscles are and how well they work.
Each person’s experience with MS is a little bit different. People with MS may feel good one day and then feel painful symptoms the next day. Symptoms are also different from person to person. Common symptoms are pain, weakness, reduced mobility, feeling tired and swallowing problems.
While treatment for MS is different for each person, the tips below may help you manage your symptoms. These are:
- Taking medication as prescribed by your doctor
- Getting enough sleep
- Making nutritious food choices
- Moving more
- Being smoke free
Can going on a special diet help with MS?
There is not one MS treatment that works well for everyone, since people may have different symptoms. Many types of special diets have been suggested to help manage MS. However, none of these diets have proven to be helpful.
Popular special MS diets usually limit certain foods or nutrients, such as wheat, dairy or fat. These diets can be low in important vitamins or minerals, which can be harmful if you are already underweight or are not getting enough of some nutrients.
If you have MS, following Canada's Food Guide will provide you with all the nutrients you need and help you feel more energetic. Do not go on a special diet without talking to a dietitian. If you do want to make changes to the foods you eat, a dietitian can help you come up with a plan that meets your needs
What nutrition changes are recommended if you have MS?
If you have MS, you are at greater risk for being low in some vitamins and minerals, including the following:
Calcium and vitamin D
Some people with MS have low bone mineral density and are more likely to break bones or get osteoporosis. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include:
- milk products (milk, yogurt and cheese)
- fortified plant-based beverages
- tofu with added calcium
- canned fish with bones.
Good sources of vitamin D include milk, fortified plant-based beverages and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. Health Canada recommends that all adults over the age of 50 take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU.
Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins
Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause anemia and make you feel tired. Foods that contain vitamin B12 include milk products, fortified plant-based beverages, eggs, meat, fish and poultry.
Low levels of vitamin B9 (also known as folate) have also been found in people with MS. Folate is found in a variety of foods like beans, lentils, vegetables like spinach, bok choy, corn, and enriched grain products.
In addition to eating the right foods, you may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements to get enough of these nutrients. Work with your dietitian to learn how much (what dose) is right for you. There is no proof that taking very high doses of these nutrients is helpful, so make sure to follow your dietitian’s advice.
What lifestyle changes are recommended if you have MS?
This may be difficult as you may get tired easily or find moving painful, but it is important to try. Regular exercise such as walking, swimming or stretching can help maintain healthy muscles. Being active can also help reduce fatigue. Pick an activity you like and that you can do on a regular basis. If you’re new to physical activity, speak to your health care provider before getting started so that you can come up with an activity plan that works for you.
Monitor your weight
Some people with MS may lose weight if they have a poor appetite or if they are too tired to cook. Some people may have trouble swallowing. It is important to alert your health care team if you notice that you are losing weight.
Try physical therapy
You may benefit from therapy to help you maintain balance and reduce muscle weakness. Speak to your health care provider for a referral.
Should I take herbal products if I have MS?
You may have tried different herbal products, such as St. John's wort, ginseng, echinacea and valerian, to improve or prevent MS symptoms. Right now, no herbal products are recommended for MS due to safety concerns. Some herbs can react badly with the medicines you are taking. If you do choose to take herbal products, make sure to discuss it with your dietitian, health care provider or pharmacist.
How can a dietitian help?
A dietitian is an important part of your care team when you have MS. Your dietitian will:
- Work with you to plan a balanced, nutritious diet to help maintain or improve your energy
- Make sure you are getting enough nutrients from your diet, like vitamin D, calcium and B vitamins
- Recommend vitamin and mineral supplements you may benefit from
- Give you specific recommendations about which foods to eat if you have swallowing problems!
Connect with a dietitian today
Since each person’s experience with MS is a little bit different, you need to find a nutrition plan that works for you. No special diets have been proven to prevent MS or affect the way it may develop. Begin your care plan by eating well and staying active. A healthy lifestyle will benefit not only how you feel physically - but it can help your emotional health too.
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This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.
Last Update – June 14, 2022