Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

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Effect of Swank and Wahls Diets on MS Symptoms in People Living with Relapsing-Remitting MS

A recent study compared the effect of the Swank and Wahls diets in people living with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and found that both diets were associated with meaningful reduction in perceived fatigue and improved quality of life. These findings demonstrate that people with RRMS may be able to reduce the effect of their MS-related symptoms through evidence-based dietary modifications.

While over half of people living with MS implement dietary modifications to manage their disease, there is insufficient clinical data on the effect of specific diets. Two popular diets with some preliminary scientific evidence in people with MS are the Swank diet, a diet low in saturated fat, and the Wahls diet, a modified Paleolithic diet. Notably, both diets recommend high intake of fruits, vegetables and unsaturated fats and limited intake of highly processed foods.

A research study engaged 95 people with RRMS and compared the effect of these two diets on reported fatigue and quality of life. Fatigue is one of the most common MS symptoms often associated with increased disability and reduced quality of life. The study observed participants on their usual diet over a 12-week period and then randomly assigned them to either the Swank or Wahls diet and followed them over a 24-week period. Nutritional counselling and supports were provided during the first 12-week period of the intervention. Outcomes were assessed at 12 and 24 weeks.

The researchers found that adherence to the diet was high among both groups. One half to three-quarters of participants in both groups reported clinically meaningful reductions in perceived fatigue at 12 weeks that was maintained by most at 24 weeks. Both groups showed significant improvements in reported quality of life. Neither group experienced significant improvements in distance walked during the six-minute walk test (6MWT) at 12 weeks, however, at 24 weeks, the Wahls group walked further compared to the baseline measurement. The mechanism by which diet affects MS-related fatigue and quality of life is not known, but could be related to regulating inflammation or oxidative stress. Additional research on these diets is needed to study dietary changes over a longer period of time and with a larger number of people. It will also be important to understand the changes that are taking place in the brain as a result of dietary changes.

Resources:

Full text article published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/20552173211035399

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