While researchers have been puzzled over the precise contributing factors behind Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for many years, it is widely believed that risk factors are both genetic and environmental. Recently, more evidence has been uncovered which points to the role of environmental factors, and specifically, diet, in a person’s likelihood of developing the condition. A new study on the influence of diet has been published in The Journal of Nutrition and indicates a link between red meat consumption and a reduced risk of first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination (FCD), a precursor to MS.
MS Risk & Red Meat Consumption: A Noteworthy Association
Researchers used data from more than 280 individuals who had experienced FCD, and more than 550 control participants who hadn’t. The participants were ranked according to a points-based diet score which measured how many servings of red meat they consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet. The scores of the people who consumed three or more servings of unprocessed red meat were found to have a reduced risk of FCD, compared to those who consumed two or fewer.
Why Could Red Meat Help?
According to one of the lead study researchers, the nutrients found in red meat, including omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, protein, potassium, vitamin D, and selenium, are all known to contribute to brain functioning. One critical component to the potential benefits is choosing high-quality meats, however. The research shows sources such as grass-fed beef are linked to the reduced risk, and the study participants largely maintained good eating patterns, as they followed a Mediterranean diet. This approach to eating is known to boost cardiovascular health and prioritizes the intake of healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, among other key components.
Who Do These Findings Affect?
The study findings show that for individuals who had a first-degree relative with MS, the risk would drop from 2 to 4% down to 1 to 2.5%. The greatest benefit is seen among individuals who have an identical twin with MS: for this population, the risk drops from 30 to 50% down to 14 to 32%. The findings also suggest that the more unprocessed red meat the individual consumes, the greater the reduction of risk may be.
Ultimately, the benefits of eating red meat appear to be greatest for the populations with a close relative with MS. It’s worth noting, however, that authorities such as the World Health Organization have issued warnings against red meat, and suggest that it could be carcinogenic to humans. Dietary modifications such as these should, therefore, be discussed with a doctor before being introduced into an individual’s daily routine.
The complex interplay between nutrition and health is still
being researched by experts. In many cases, there are already established links
between certain foods and undesirable health outcomes. For example, recent
dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10%
of your daily calories or less, as they’re associated with an increased
risk of heart disease. For individuals with chronic diseases, it’s perhaps even
more important to consider the ways food can impact health.
For those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS),
optimizing your diet means not only filling your plate with healthy foods, but
also avoiding or limiting foods known to exacerbate symptoms. Research shows
that in particular, patients with MS have been able to improve their quality of
life by making specific tweaks
to their diet. Discover which foods
you should discuss with your doctor as a means of controlling your symptoms.
Saturated fats are commonly found in animal products,
including red meat. These foods aren’t entirely void of nutritious qualities –
after all, they can be rich sources of protein. Yet, their high concentration
of saturated fats presents issues, as they could raise “bad” cholesterol
levels. This is especially of concern for MS patients, who face a higher risk
for heart problems than people without MS.
Trans fats, too, are considered dangerous. Sometimes labeled
as “partially hydrogenated oils,” these fats are known to increase
inflammation, particularly within the blood vessels. This, too, increases the
risk of cardiovascular issues. Steer clear of packaged cookies, crackers, and dessert
items, or at the very least, be sure to enjoy them sparingly.
We mentioned briefly above that added sugars are notorious
for their adverse health effects. Not only does excess
sugar lead to weight gain, but it also produces an inflammatory effect
which can intensify MS symptoms. Natural sugars, including those found in
fruits, don’t have the same effect, so feel free to snack on those instead.
Added salt presents a number of issues for MS patients. In
general, higher sodium intake is associated with increased
disease activity in MS, and has been found to increase likelihood of
relapse and development of lesions. Sodium intake and blood pressure are also
related, and because high blood pressure can decrease life expectancy in MS
patients, added salt should be consumed at a minimum.
Like meat, cow’s milk and other full-fat dairy products are high
in saturated fats. Besides the fat content, however, specific proteins in the
milk could cause trouble for people with MS. These agents could produce a
reaction in multiple sclerosis sufferers, but research shows
the link isn’t very strong. However, it may be worth replacing cow’s milk and
other full-fat dairy products with alternatives to see if it alleviates your
symptoms. Consider exploring options such as soy, almond, or even camel’s
Gluten is primarily a concern for people with celiac
disease, which is characterized by an allergy to the protein found in rye,
wheat, and barley. Consuming gluten can cause intestinal damage in people with
the allergy. Because MS patients have a higher incidence
of celiac disease than the general population, it may be useful to closely
monitor your body’s reaction to consuming bread, cereal, pasta, and other foods
with gluten. While there is currently no evidence suggesting avoidance of
gluten can alleviate MS symptoms in patients who don’t have celiac disease, it never
hurts to bring up any food-related concerns you may have with your physician.
A healthy diet is important for feeling your best, but for individuals with an autoimmune disorder such as multiple sclerosis (MS), healthy eating plans become even more critical. This is the belief on which the Wahls diet was founded. Developed by Dr. Terry Wahls, the diet implements paleo-style eating to aid in symptom management. Here, we learn more about the eating plan that has helped MS patients and sufferers of other autoimmune disorders manage their conditions more effectively.
How is Diet Linked to Autoimmune Diseases?
Autoimmune disorders are suspected to be caused by low-grade inflammation, or the inflammation that takes place in our cells. Research suggests that a microbial imbalance of gut flora could also contribute to autoimmunity. Eating plans such as the Wahls protocol diet aim to reduce inflammation by eliminating certain food chemicals which could contribute to gut dysbiosis and inflammation in sensitive individuals.
What Does the Wahls Diet Entail?
Like the Paleolithic (Paleo) diet, the Wahls protocol emphasizes the consumption of meat and fish and vegetables. It also encourages fat intake from both animal and plant sources and allows for brightly-colored fruits, such as berries, to be enjoyed regularly.
In order to minimize potential inflammatory agents found in common food sources, the diet is fairly restrictive. For instance, dairy products and eggs are prohibited, along with nightshade vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Legumes, all grains, and sugars (except for those occurring naturally in fruits) are also restricted.
In recognition of the varying degree of severity in autoimmune disorders, as well as patients’ diverse food preferences and needs, Dr. Wahls has established three tiers of the diet. For instance, Level 3 calls for the elimination of all white-fleshed fruits, while Level 1 requires only the avoidance of all foods containing gluten and dairy.
Does the Diet Really Work?
In patients with MS, following a paleo-style diet has been shown to improve fatigue. Yet, because subjects involved in clinical studies are also typically receiving additional forms of therapy, it is difficult to isolate dietary tactics alone as the primary agent for achieving results. Nonetheless, Dr. Wahls attributes the diet to her own reversal of symptoms. Before she embarked on a healthier eating plan, Dr. Wahls’ muscles had weakened to the point at which she needed a tilt-recline wheelchair. After transforming her diet, she was able to bike nearly 20 miles a day.
While research on the complex ways in which dietary choices impact immune functionality is still ongoing. For patients with autoimmune disorders like MS, talking to doctors about anti-inflammatory eating plans is certainly not a bad idea. Beyond aiding with symptom management, a healthier eating plan could support better wellness outcomes and reduce risks for other serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
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