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Obesity and multiple sclerosis — what’s the relationship? January 5, 2009

Posted by Rebecca Hoover in Diet - the right diet for MS, what you need to eat, Exercise - why you need it and what you need.

Studies show that obesity at age 18 greatly increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity is what doctors call a comorbidity, a health problem that coexists with another condition. Obesity not only may help cause MS, it also complicates MS. The MS problems presented by obesity are another reason to start and put the whole family on the type of ultra healthy diet needed by those with MS. I recommend following the Swank MS Diet discussed elsewhere with the updates recommended by Dr. George Jelinek, a medical professor.

In November 2009, Neurology, the leading journal for neurologists in the United States, published the results of a study that reviewed the presence or absence of MS in more than 200,000 women. The study found that women who were obese at age 18 were 2.25 times more likely to develop MS than women who were not obese. Women who were obese at age 20 were almost two times more likely to later develop MS.  Interestingly, however, obesity and ages 5, 10 and during later adulthood was not correlated with increased risk of MS onset. This does not mean, however, that those with MS can ignore the weight issue. Unfortunately, studies show that obesity, when combined with MS, makes MS a difficult disease.

First, research shows that obesity makes diagnosis of MS more difficult and delays diagnosis of MS. Because obesity can be frequently accompanied by numbness, for example, doctors may guess that a patient’s numbness is the result of obesity rather than MS. The delay in diagnosis of MS is problematic, however, because the delay means a delay in treatment of MS.

Second, obesity makes coping with MS more difficult. While obese MS patients need exercise and a healthy diet more than most to prevent heart disease, this exercise requires extra effort. If MS patients are obese, they need extra encouragement to reduce weight and get needed aerobic exercise. Addressing obesity is important because research shows that obese MS patients are more likely to experience moderate rather than mild disability early after diagnosis.

It is especially important to note that the same diet that can lead to obesity, also probably makes MS worse.  Studies show that eating diets high in saturated fats is likely to make MS worse while eating healthy fats and a healthy diet seems to improve outcomes. Eating right is important for everyone — it is doubly important for those with MS.  Please see my post about eating right for more information. This is so important that more than one professor of medicine has taken the time to write a book largely devoted to describing just what a healthy diet for MS patients means. I follow this advice that is based on scientific research and I recommend you do the same.

If you have MS or think you might have MS and are overweight, the sooner you address physical fitness the healthier you will be. Please read the post on eating healthy and check out the Swank MS Diet. The next thing, you know you will be feeling better than you have felt in years. And you will be looking gorgeous too — healthy eating and living do that for you.

Please let me know if you find my blog helpful. Please add a comment. What did you like? What would you like added? Thanks! Together we can change the way the world views MS. Please also join the Intelligent Guide to MS page on Facebook. I will use that page to make timely posts on new research and other issues likely to be of interest to others.

Please remember to consult with your doctors about how to stay as healthy as possible. Nothing here should be interpreted as medical advice. Instead, please use the information you find here in your discussions with your doctor.

Copyright 2008 Rebecca Hoover

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Tags:  Multiple Sclerosis, MS, Obesity, Diet, Exercise



1. Oľga - March 3, 2010

This article is brilliant. I can add – I am suffering of MS too -over 26 years and – very probably- one cause of developing MS at me was my obesity in 18 : 162 cm tallness and 68 kg weight, maybe only 6 kg over, but I was overweighting, I Ithink. It was caused by other moments, naturelly – stress at University studies… But now I am 55 kg, I have MS and I am still working and moving.
Thank you for your information.

Rebecca Hoover - March 3, 2010

Olga, thanks for your post. I just calculated your BMI when 18, and it was 25.9. This means you were overweight but not obese. To be obese you would need a BMI of 30 or above.

Given this, it is more likely that you did not have much Vitamin D when you were growing up and then later. More and more studies are showing that a shortage of Vitamin D seems to be a factor in the onset of MS.

I hope you are taking about 5,000 I.U. of Vitamin D3 currently. Studies suggest this would help you feel better and help prevent relapses. Also, the other tips in my site are important too. Beating MS is a little work but definitely worth the effort!

Best wishes,


2. Allan - March 9, 2010

My wife is in a California state hosp., and is being mitreated on a daily basis. She was denied her M.S. medication for 2 1/2 years because of negligence and incompetence on the part of her so_called medical team. she is being given Depakote which has balooned her weight from a normal 120 lbs. to 180 lbs. and at 5’5” her BMI is about 30, she looks and feels terrible and is at more risk now for heart, kidney, liver, failure among other medical problems. The judge in her conservatorship hearings just believes the lies of her doctors and there allows the abuse to go on unabated!! These Quakes are killing my wife, what can I do!!!

Rebecca Hoover - March 11, 2010

Allan, I am sorry I have not responded sooner but since I do not live in California I wanted to ask a friend from there for ideas. Based on my conversation with her, I have a few ideas for you.

First, I suggested you read the book Swank MS Diet by Roy Laver Swank, M.D. as well as a book by George Jelinek, M.D. called Taking Control of Multiple Sclerosis. Both of these men are doctors and suggest what MS patients should eat to start healing. With the knowledge gained from these books, you will be able to talk to your wife, her doctors, etc., and hopefully get her to start eating in a healthier way. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the more helpful you can be.

Also, your situation is quite complicated because a judge is involved as you know. So my friend from California suggested that you try to locate a lawyer and ask for help. Depending upon where you are located, the help of a lawyer may be available for free. My friend tells me there is a support group in California that provides support to people involved in the mental health system in California. This group may have lots of good ideas for you and they have an Internet site at: NAMICalifornia .

I am sorry things are so stressful for you right now. Don’t forget, though, that a persistent person can often turn things around. I am sure the group my friend suggested will be of some help in coming up with a good plan of action.


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