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Can eating like a caveman ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Posted in CPR News
Tuesday March 24, 2015

One doctor who has MS—Terry L. Wahls, MD, a clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City—says the answer is yes, and she's living proof of that. The Paleo diet advocates a return to the days of yore, the Paleolithic Era, when hunters and gatherers consumed fresh lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthier, natural fats. There's a groundswell of support for the role of the caveman diet in improving, if not reversing, the symptoms of MS.

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Much of the enthusiasm for a Paleo-like diet as a treatment for MS comes from Dr. Wahls, who was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and had progressed to a wheelchair when she began to tweak her diet. Today, she can jog on a treadmill.

Her journey is the subject of a recent and well-received TED talk and her latest book, The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine. A search of the Paleo diet for MS turns up hundreds of blog entries and personal Web pages of people who have been inspired and helped by the Wahls protocol.

Deciphering the Paleo Diet for MS

The Paleo diet restricts dairy products, grains, refined sugars, oils, processed foods, salt, and potatoes. If it wasn't on a caveman's plate, it shouldn't be on yours. Many foods are fair game, including nuts and seeds, olive and coconut oils, fresh lean meats, and fish, fruits, and vegetables.

RELATED: The Lowdown on a Low-Carb Diet for MS
"Most Westernized diets are lacking in vitamins, nutrients, and fat that support brain health," Wahls says. Also, many people with MS have a genetic tendency toward an aggressive immune response to gluten, casein (the protein in milk), and egg protein, which are the first foods to go in the Wahls Paleo protocol. The diet is also rich in leafy greens, which contain vitamins B, A, C, and K for a healthy immune system, intestinal tract, and brain. She also recommended eating sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbage, onion, and mushroom, each day to help encourage a detoxification process.

The Paleo diet can have health benefits for anyone, including people with MS.
Lori S. Chong, RD
Paleo Diet for MS: What to Expect
"People have the most success when they do it as a family unit," says Wahls, warning that you'll probably feel worse during the first week as your body begins to detox, but you'll begin to improve by week two. Within a month, she said, you'll have more energy, more mental clarity, and less fatigue, and "will start to see how you're turning the corner on the disease."

A small study from Wahls's lab published online in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that people with MS who followed Wahls's version of the Paleo diet, took nutritional supplements, and participated in an exercise and meditation program, among other interventions, were less tired as a result. That's considered especially good news because fatigue affects up to 80 percent of people with MS.

Lori S. Chong, RD, a nutritionist at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, said that the Paleo diet can have health benefits for anyone, including people with MS. "Cutting out sugars and processed foods, reducing refined oils, and returning to natural sources of fats is smart," she said. "The diet is rich in fish, nuts and seeds, fruits, and vegetables, which are known to have health benefits."

The typical American diet doesn't hold a candle to the Paleo diet, she said, because it consists of "very few fruits and vegetables, all grains are stripped of minerals and fiber, and processed foods are the norm."

Should You Try the Paleo Diet for MS?
For anyone with MS who's considering the Paleo diet, it's a case of first do no harm, according to Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and co-author of Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies. "Try it and see what happens," she says. "We have no evidence that the Paleo diet will affect the disease itself, but it does not appear to cause any harm."