While there is no single best diet for multiple sclerosis (MS), consuming or avoiding certain foods may help a person manage their symptoms. Certain lifestyle changes may also be beneficial for managing MS.
When a person develops MS, the myelin that coats nerve fibers becomes damaged. As a result, the nerves lose the ability to transmit electrical signals.
In relapsing-remitting MS, the symptoms come and go. A person experiences symptom flare-ups (relapses) and periods of remission. In other types of MS, which are progressive, the symptoms gradually worsen.
Treatment for MS focuses on managing symptoms and helping people live with the condition. A well-balanced diet can improve a person’s overall health and may assist in managing MS.
Understanding the role of diet in MS and making certain changes may result in fewer relapses, a lower risk of health complications, and a better quality of life.
The relationship between the diet and MS may involve:
- the role of gut bacteria in immune disorders
- vitamin deficiencies
- nutrients that can support and protect the central nervous system
- the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet for overall well-being
Read an overview of MS.
Anyone following a specific diet needs to consume all the necessary daily nutrients. Before making large dietary changes, a person should speak with a registered dietitian to ensure they can replace any lost nutrients.
Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. Therefore, people avoiding gluten should avoid foods containing these grains.
Foods that contain gluten include:
- wheat products such as bread and baked goods
- many premade soups and salad dressings
- barley products such as malt, soups, beer, and brewer’s yeast
- rye, which is often present in bread and cereals
People who follow a gluten-free diet may miss out on important nutrients, including fiber, which is present in whole grains. They can boost their fiber intake by eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and pulses.
Anyone considering a gluten-free diet should consult a doctor first.
Many people who
The diet involves switching to foods that hunter-gatherers likely ate. The first step is to choose natural foods over processed foods, emphasizing meat and plant-based foods but not grains.
In a small
Learn more about the paleo diet.
The Wahls diet, or Wahls protocol, is a modified version of the paleo diet. Dr. Terry Wahls developed the plan specifically to help people with MS.
Like the paleo diet, the Wahls diet features nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods. A person following the Wahls diet will prioritize green, leafy, and sulfur-rich vegetables; intensely colored fruits; and minimally processed animal proteins.
Doctors developed the Swank diet as an MS treatment in the 1950s.
It reduces saturated fat intake to 15 grams (g) per day and recommends limiting unsaturated fat intake to 20–50 g per day.
People on this diet:
- cannot eat processed foods or dairy fats
- cannot eat red meat during the first year
- can eat as much white fish and shellfish as they like
- should eat at least 2 cups each of fruits and vegetables every day
- should eat whole grain pasta
- should take cod liver oil and multivitamins daily
While some consider the diet to be dated, others report that it helps.
Can they help with MS?
In 2015, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) reviewed several diets and their impact on MS.
The authors of the review concluded that there is not enough evidence to recommend one diet over another and acknowledged that most diets restrict or leave out the same types of food.
In general, a person with MS should avoid foods that:
- are highly processed
- are high in saturated fat
- have a high glycemic index
Certain foods may benefit people with MS by affecting the function of the immune system, nerves, and body.
Probiotics and prebiotics
The intestinal flora, or gut flora, is a highly complex system of microorganisms living in the intestines. In humans, these microorganisms are largely bacteria.
These bacteria are responsible for breaking down food and nutrients and play a key role in digestion and immune system health. Healthy gut flora thrives in the intestines when there is ample fiber in the diet.
Probiotic bacteria are present in a range of fermented foods. They are also available in supplement form. The following foods contain healthy levels of Lactobacillus, a type of beneficial bacteria:
Foods that contain healthy levels of prebiotic fiber include:
High levels of fiber are present in many plant-based foods, including:
Learn more about high fiber food options.
Consuming these products may have a range of health benefits for people with MS. A high fiber diet can positively affect the body in several ways, including:
- nourishing the gut bacteria
- promoting regular bowel movements
- regulating blood pressure
- keeping the heart healthy by helping manage cholesterol
- reducing the likelihood of weight gain by leaving a person feeling full longer
Vitamin D is important for everyone, but it may be especially beneficial for people with MS.
According to the
Vitamin D is also important for bone health. People with MS may be more likely to have low bone density and osteoporosis, especially if they cannot move around easily. An adequate intake of vitamin D may help prevent this.
Most of the body’s vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight, but a person can also get it by
- oily fish
- fortified dairy products
- some fortified cereals, yogurt, and orange juice
- beef liver
- egg yolks
Small studies indicate that a high dosage of biotin — at least 300 milligrams per day — could help people with progressive MS.
Confirming and specifying the benefits of biotin supplementation will require more research, but following a balanced diet can often ensure that a person consumes enough of this vitamin.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
There is evidence that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help support a healthy body and manage inflammation.
For example, the authors of a
Many vegetable-based foods contain polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body’s cells.
These effects may help prevent cell damage, making polyphenols potentially useful for people with MS.
Sources of polyphenols
For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.
Components of some foods may be harmful to people with MS, so people should limit them in their diet.
Saturated fats and highly processed foods
Highly processed foods may affect a person’s health, especially if they contain high levels of:
A 2017 randomized clinical trial found that a high sodium diet
People with MS have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure, and heart attacks. As a result, maintaining a moderate sodium intake is essential to promote heart health.
- sugar-sweetened drinks such as sodas and energy drinks
- processed meats, including burgers and sausages
- fried foods such as french fries and potato chips
- highly processed ready-made meals, including frozen pizzas
- trans fats such as margarine and shortening
Moreover, a person with MS who loses mobility or finds movement more challenging may be more likely to gain weight.
Managing the diet to prevent weight gain may also help prevent MS symptoms from worsening. Dietary changes may boost a person’s well-being and reduce the risk of additional health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Certain lifestyle and habit changes may benefit a person’s overall health and help them manage their MS. These include:
- increasing sunlight exposure to boost vitamin D levels
- exercising to help maintain strength and flexibility and support overall health and well-being
- quitting smoking, if applicable, and avoiding secondhand smoke
According to the NMSS, there is insufficient evidence to recommend specific diets for treating MS.
A healthy diet for a person with MS is one that supports the immune system and provides all necessary nutrients. A varied diet that includes all the core food groups and avoids heavily processed foods and saturated fats is key to overall health.
Anyone considering making major changes to their diet or lifestyle should seek guidance from a doctor first.
MS affects the nervous system and can lead to various primary and secondary health issues. It is a lifelong condition that may come and go or progress steadily.
Healthy dietary choices can benefit people with MS by boosting overall well-being and quality of life. Certain dietary habits may change the condition’s progression or prevent specific symptoms or complications, such as cardiovascular disease.
A range of special diets may help manage MS symptoms and reduce the chance of complications. However, more research is necessary to assess the effectiveness of these diets, and a person should consult a doctor before making any major dietary changes.
People with MS may wish to avoid highly processed foods, saturated fats, and added salt and sugar. Minimally processed whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes, and oily fish, are better choices.
A person can find more resources for living with MS by downloading the Bezzy MS app. This free app provides access to expert content on MS and peer support through one-on-one conversations and live group discussions. Download the app for iPhone or Android.