multiple sclerosis

Review of literature: can the Wahls diet (modified Paleolithic diet) and low saturated fat Swank diet have any effect on multiple sclerosis?

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

September 17, 2018

@VThornleyMD

Introduction

Patients are seeking complementary treatments aside from conventional agents. Agree with it or not, if doctors do not listen to their patients they will seek it elsewhere so it is good to be up to date on the review of literature. While alternative treatments are commonly lacking in evidence based medicine it does not necessarily have to work in opposition with conventional agents. There are studies by Mauskop, (1) a headache specialist who found that 50% of migraineurs are magnesium deficient and magnesium can be a effective preventative agent in selected patients. Instead of being instantly dismissive, review of the literature should be sought to have an evidence-based understanding from a scientific level.

What is the modified Paleolithic diet?

In the modified Paleolithic diet, there is stress on meat, fruit and vegetables, excluding legumes, dairy and grains (2). Night shade vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants are excluded.

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What is the Swank diet?

Dr. Roy Swank from Norway hypothesized that a diet rich in saturated fat likely caused a faster progression of the disease state in multiple sclerosis relapsing-remitting type. He followed 144 patients for 34 years. The patients consumed less than 20g of saturated fat in their diet and followed. It was observed that the relapses and progression correlated with the amount of saturated fat that was consumed. The greatest benefits were seen in those with mild symptoms at the start of the study. The patients were followed 50 years, however, there were no case controls patients for comparision (3).

Review of literature of the Wahl’s diet on Multiple sclerosis

One study focusing mainly on the dietary component seeks to understand an effect using the randomized controlled clinical trial method. The study is ongoing (2). It seeks to study the anecdotal information that diet low in saturated fat may lessen  the debilitating symptom of fatigue in patients with multiple sclerosis. While there have been anecdotal data, many patients have been found to drop out of the control group because of poor tolerability making results unreliable (2). In addition, the studies available provide a multi-prong approach including factors of stress reduction, exercise and muscle stimulation.

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Multimodal approach: exercise, stress reduction, meditation, massage and diet

One small study of 20 patients demonstrated some benefits of modifying diet, reducing stress and stimulating muscles in relation to multiple sclerosis symptoms.  They found that patients who presented with mild symptoms of progressive multiple sclerosis received some benefit to a multi-prong approach with regard to gait improvement compared to those who were more advanced in their disorder (4).

In summary

To summarize, at present there is insufficient data to support the Wahl’s diet as an effective treatment option based on the available current studies.  However, having said that there has been some anecdotal and very small studies indicating benefits in multiple sclerosis. Randomized controlled clinical trials which are the gold standard in research are ongoing which will be shed more light on its effectiveness.

In the meantime, while there are no completed large randomized controlled clinical trials, these types of diets and modalities are complementary with the current treatment and would do no harm. However, until large randomized controlled clinical trials are completed, it is difficult to ascertain if they are indeed effective and recommend it advocating it as effective.

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Reference

  1. Mauskop, et al, All migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journ. Neural Trans. 2012, May, 119(5):575-579
  2. Wahls, T., Scott, M.O., Alshare, Z., Rubenstein, L. Darling, W., Carr, L., Smith, Chenard, C.A., LaRocca, N., Snetselaar. Dietary appraoches to treat MS-related fatigue: comparing the modified Paleolithic (Wahls elimination) and low saturated fat (Swank) diets on perceived fatigue in persons with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis: a study protocol for randomized controlled trial. Trial. 2018, Jun. 4, 19(1):309
  3. Swank, R.L., Duggan, B.B., Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple ssclerosis. Lancet, 1990, Jul., 7, 336 (8706)
  4. Bisht, B., Darling, W., White, E.C., White, K.A., Shivapour, E.T., Zimmerman, M.B., Wahls, T. Effects of a multimodal intervention on gait and balance of subjects with multiple sclerosis: a prospective longitudinal pilot study. Degen. Neurol. Neuromuscul Dis. 2017, Jun. 26, 7:79-93

 

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