Nearly one million Americans are living with multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord.
Therapy and medications can slow the progression, but now, researchers say a popular eating plan is relieving some symptoms in patients with the relapsing form of MS, the most common form of the condition.
Meals that are high in healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and salmon and extremely low in carbohydrates – the ketogenic diet is popular with those trying to drop weight quickly.
“This diet, in a way, tricks the body into thinking it’s fasting, and in fact, it’s not, and most people are quite full on this diet,” said Dr. J. Nicholas Brenton, a neurologist at the University of Virginia Health System.
On a keto diet, the body relies on fat for energy instead of stored sugar from carbs.
Since dietary intake is known to improve the body’s immune system, Brenton and his colleagues wanted to know if the keto diet could help MS patients.
He said for some, it took some getting used to.
“Putting oil on things, and lots of eggs and creams and things like that was very counterintuitive,” Brenton said.
Eighty-three percent of the participants adhered to the keto diet for six months and found they had lower levels of depression and fatigue.
They also had improved physical endurance and reduction in other symptoms like painful sensations, tingling sensations in their hands or feet, Brenton said, adding that there were also improvements in their bowel and bladder function.
Brenton said the study shows the diet was safe and effective short-term.
Brenton said more research is needed to determine the impacts of the keto diet long-term.
While healthy fats are important for someone’s health, too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol.
He adds that the keto diet used in the study most closely resembled a modified Atkins diet — limiting carbohydrates to under 20 grams a day – the amount in one slice of thin wheat bread.
Brenton said people with MS should consult with their doctor and nutritionist before making any dietary changes.