Some versions of the Paleo diet may make your multiple sclerosis worse April 9, 2012Posted by Rebecca Hoover in Uncategorized.
Different individuals who say they follow a Paleo diet can follow very different diet plans. Some eat grass fed red and organ meats regularly, some include fish as their only meats, and some eat only free range chicken for meat. Still others are vegan. Because, however, some versions of a Paleo diet may make your multiple sclerosis (MS) worse, it is important to understand the basic issues involved in the helpfulness of various diet plans to MS. And, if your Paleo diet includes red and organ meats or even red meat from poultry, research suggests the diet may be doing more harm than good. Likewise, any use of coconut or palm oil may be doing more harm than good and excluding healthy legumes (lentils and beans) and whole grains is probably hurting you. This article discusses some of the evidence relating to red meat, legumes, whole grains, and various oils and MS.
Before discussing more detailed issues involved with various diets claiming to be Paleo diets, it is important to mention that very few humans living today can eat food similar to what was consumed during the Paleolithic Age (also called the Stone Age). At that time, there was no agriculture and animals had not been domesticated. Instead, those living during the Stone Age ate wild game that was most likely very lean compared to meats available for consumption today. Herds of domesticated grass fed beef animals did not exist during the Paleolithic Age—accordingly those living in the Paleolithic Age probably consumed far less animal fat than most Western diets include today–even when animals are grass fed.
At the same time, it is important to understand that there is no ideal research on diet and MS. Even so, the research provides plenty of signals that there are serious problems with what some are calling a Paleo diet for those with MS and probably for most. It is important to consider the evidence about the impacts of red meat, legumes, complex carbohydrates, and saturated fats.
Red Meat Probably Helps Cause and Worsen MS While Fish Protects Against MS
While so-called Paleo diets often encourage eating of domesticated grass fed red meat, studies suggest that red meat helps cause MS and is relatively unhealthy for everyone. Consider the study Nutritional factors in the aetiology of multiple sclerosis: a case-control study in Montreal, Canada. Published by the International Edidemiological Association in 1998, this study reported that eating of animal fat almost doubles the risk for MS. Eating pork increases the risk for MS by about 25 percent. Eating beef also appeared to increase the risk of acquiring MS but the result was not statistically significant. In contrast, this study showed fish has protective effect. Fish consumption actually resulted in a 10% reduced risk of acquiring MS.
Moreover, evidence is increasingly showing that red meat is problematic for everyone. One study report entitled Efficacy of Dietary BehaviorModification for Preserving Cardiovascular Health and Longevity by Moira McAllister Pryde and William Bernard Kannel indicates that red meat increases mortality by 31% in men and 35% in women. Red meat increases the risk of cancer mortality by 27% in men and 50% in women.
Another study Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies reports an overall increase in mortality of 12% from eating only one serving of red meat each day as well as increases in mortality up to 50% from cancer and heart disease in women who eat red meat.
Those who follow a Paleo diet claim that grass fed red meat is healthier than most red meat. It is important to remember, however, that if this were true MS should not have been so common in Europe when most ate only grass fed red meat. Also, it is important to remember that those living in the Paleolithic Age ate game and not domesticated grass fed animals.
Saturated fats in red meat, dairy products and coconut and palm oils seem to worsen MS
Here, the most important evidence comes from the studies performed by Professor, Roy L. Swank M.D. In one article entitled “Multiple sclerosis: fat-oil relationship, Dr. Swank reported “With a daily [saturated] fat consumption less than 20.1 g/day (av 17 g/day), 31% died, and average deterioration was slight. A daily intake greater than 20 g/day (av 25 or 41 g/day) was attended by serious disability and the deaths of 79 and 81%, respectively. Oil intake bore an indirect relationship to fat consumption. Minimally disabled patients who followed Swank’s diet recommendations deteriorated little if at all, and only 5% failed to survive the 34 year period of the study, whereas 80% who failed to follow diet recommendations did not survive the study period.” Note that Swank’s diet recommendations required avoiding red meat for one year and then allowed eating only three ounces of lean red meat per week.
Amazingly, Swank seemed to be ahead of his time–this very limited amount of red meat consumption is what scientists are now finding is needed for optimal health.
More recently a study report Serum lipid profiles are associated with disability and MRI outcomes in multiple sclerosis indicates that higher levels of overall cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) are associated with more disability in MS and more MS lesions. Red meat, of course, elevates overall cholesterol and LDL.
Fish May Help Prevent and Treat MS
At the same time, red meat is very problematic for those with MS, fish seems helpful for those not only with MS but for everyone. In Effects of dietary intervention on MRI activity, de- and remyelination in the cuprizone model for demyelinationm scientists from Norway showed eating salmon but not use of cod liver oil actually resulted in fewer MS lesions on MRIs.
Indeed, fish seems to be helpful to the brain and neurological systems of those with MS in other ways. In Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases”, scientists report that two out of three studies of omega-3 supplements showed these supplements actually reduced MS related disability. In other words, those who took omega-3 supplements (fish oils contain omega-3s), had improvements in their MS symptoms!
In yet another study Effect of dietary advice and n-3 supplementation in newly diagnosed MS patients, scientists reported improved outcomes for newly diagnosed MS patients who receive fish oil and other nutritional supplements
Legumes Are Included in the Diets of Those Who Live the Longest and May Be Key to Good Health
Another important issue is that Paleo diets usually exclude foods that studies have found to be protective against MS and that are appear to be most helpful in living long and healthy lives. Also, while Paleo diets ban legumes (lentils and beans) and whole grains, studies suggest these are helpful for those with MS. Here are a few related studies:
In Nutritional factors in the aetiology of multiple sclerosis: a case-control study in Montreal, Canada discussed previously, scientists reported that vegetable protein decreases the risk for MS by more than 50% while cereal fibers decrease the risk of MS by more than 40%. Instead of excluding legumes and whole grains from the diets of those with MS, it seems wise to include them. (Of course, if any allergies are present, these must be taken into account.)
Overall, excluding vegetable protein from legumes and whole grains for almost everyone may shorten life. In Protein and coronary heart disease: the role of different protein sources, scientists reported that low carbohydrate diets high in vegetable protein extend life by about 20% while low carbohydrate diets high in animal protein increase morality by about 23%.
Likewise in Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities scientists report that contrary to the claims of proponents of Paleo diets, legumes (lentils and beans) actually help ensure overall health and are part of the diets of those who live the longest everywhere in the world. At the same time, there is not even one study showing that legumes are harmful in anyway to those with MS. In fact, the studies suggest that legumes help protect against MS and against the inflammation that can worsen MS.
The eating of whole grains often discouraged by Paleo diets is also usually helpful. In Factor analysis in the identification of dietary patterns and their predictive role in morbid and fatal events, scientists reported the consumption of bread, cereals (pasta), potatoes, vegetables, fish and oil lowers the overall mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.
In summary, the studies seem to show that the same ultra healthy diet that extends life also protects against and helps those with MS. This ultra healthy diet includes fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts and generous amounts of vegetables with some fruit. We also need to keep in mind that anecdotal evidence is not scientific evidence. Stories of individual recoveries attributed to a Paleo diet may be the results of other factors just as the many individuals who claimed MS cures from bee strings were later very disappointed.
We do owe our Paleo fan friends a debt of gratitude though. They have rightly encouraged eating more vegetables! If your definition of a Paleo diet includes the components of the diets being found to be ultra healthy by scientists today, the diet is probably A-OK and will probably keep you looking great and feeling great for a long, long time. Woo hoo! If on the other hand your diet includes more than miniscule amounts of red meat or coconut or palm oil and excludes legumes and whole grains, some revisions seem to be in order. Some who have tried some versions of Paleo diets are now expressing regrets because they believe the diet they tried made their MS worse.
Unfortunately, some very unhealthy diets are being promoted these days for those with MS under the Paleo name and these are based on wishful thinking and some unfortunate nostalgic longing for a perfect past that never really existed. Scientific research supports the view a whole plant food diet with fish is just about the healthiest diet out there and that those with MS do best when following such a diet. Interestingly, a whole plant food diet combined with fish probably comes closest to what those in the Paleolithic Age actually age.
Merely grass feeding domesticated beef animals does not create the wild animals actually consumed by those who lived during the Paleolithic Age.
As always, have fun eating healthy! There are lots of great recipes out there and you can look and feel great and keep your taste buds dancing with joy! Being drop dead gorgeous from eating right can always be fun. Being scientific about all of this can be fun too because it keeps you confident that you are moving in the right direction.
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 your with 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 2012 Rebecca Hoover