A study beginning in 2008 shows that a low-fat, vegan diet can help people with Multiple Sclerosis combat fatigue. The study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, is the first randomized-controlled trial examining the effect of a low-fat vegan diet for MS management. MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It’s unpredictable, often disabling, and disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body.
The vegan diet tested in this study is based on the McDougall Diet, designed by Dr. Roy Swank, a neurologist at the Oregon Health & Sciences University, in the 1940s and 1950s– in an effort to fight symptoms of MS, according to a press release that accompanied the study. Results showed that participants who followed a vegan diet for one year experienced significantly less fatigue than those who continued a diet that included dairy, meat and fish. Following the McDougall Diet, a person’s calories should consist of 10 percent fat, 14 percent protein and 76 percent carbs, focusing on starches like rice, beans, pasta, potatoes, corn, oats, fruits and vegetables.
Fatigue occurs in about 80 percent of individuals with MS and is sometimes one of the most prominent symptoms they experience, according to the National MS Society. “Fatigue can be a debilitating problem for many people living with relapsing-remitting MS,” said Dr. Vijayshree Yadav, author of the study, in a press release. “So this study’s results—showing some notable improvement in fatigue for people who follow this diet—are a hopeful hint of something that could help many people with MS.”
The focus in this study was on those with relapsing-remitting MS, which is the most common form of the disease and affects about 85 percent who suffer. This type shows periods of flare-up, followed by periods of remission.
A range of MS symptoms were measured by researchers which included brain lesions on MRI brain scans, disabilities that were the cause of MS and relapse rates– in those who participated in the study and followed the diet for one year, and in members of the control group who didn’t follow the diet. The cholesterol levels and body weight were noted for participants in the two groups. In total, 53 people completed the study, said Yadav in a Healthline interview. 27 people were in the control group and 22 people in the diet group. They were given lectures, cooking demos, and advice on proper foods to choose from supermarkets and restaurants.
Differences were not found between the groups regarding the number of brain lesions on MRI scans, relapse rates or disability level. However, they did find that those who followed a plant-based diet lost more weight, reported mood improvement, lowered cholesterol levels and had an enhanced quality of life overall. Due to the small number of individuals in the study, more research is needed to fully understand how a plant-based diet can help people with MS, Yadav reported to Healthline.