Special diets and vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements for people with multiple sclerosis

Diet is an area in which people with multiple sclerosis (MS) frequently experiment, in part because there are many claims as to the effectiveness of certain diets and nutritional supplements in the treatment of MS.

These special diets and supplements are frequently suggested in the consumer literature as improving the condition of a person with MS. However, none have been shown to have any benefit in reducing the symptoms of MS or controlling the disease, and none are recommended.

  • The Swank Diet recommends low intake of saturated fat [maximum of 3 tsp (15 mL) per day] and high consumption of polyunsaturated fat [up to 10 tsp (49 mL) per day for very active people].
  • Evening primrose oil, the most widely used herbal supplement in MS, has not been shown to provide any significant benefit in controlling the disease.
  • Many practitioners recommend dietary supplements of large doses of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).
  • Vitamin B12 has been proposed as a key substance that should be injected (intravenously or intramuscularly) in very large doses.
  • Magnesium supplements are believed to reduce spasticity, but this theory has never been proven.
  • Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by a small gland (pineal gland) in the brain. Some people take melatonin as a dietary supplement to treat jet lag or insomnia. One theory suggests that MS may be associated with dysfunction of the pineal gland and lower-than-normal levels of melatonin, which may disrupt the immune system. It has been proposed that higher melatonin levels (obtained by taking melatonin supplements) may protect against MS relapses. This theory, however, has never been proven.1

Again, there is no evidence to show that any of these diets or supplements have any benefit in the treatment of MS. A healthful, balanced diet will provide all the nutrients you need in most cases. Good nutrition may also help you feel better and benefit your overall health.

Be careful about taking supplements. Some minerals and vitamins are toxic if they are taken in large amounts.

Citations

  1. Shiflett SC, Cotter AS (2003). Multiple sclerosis section of Neurologic disorders. In JW Spencer et al., eds., Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach, pp. 220–223. St. Louis: Mosby.

Last Updated: February 18, 2010

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