We all know that eating a healthy diet is fundamental to maintaining health. Our bodies can heal from just about anything if we give them the nutrients they need and stop eating the ones that are harmful.
So if we are suddenly faced with MS or any other chronic disease, the first—and most important—step should be to become aware of what we are eating.
There are two things I’m sure of:
- Big Macs, cokes, junk food, and sugary deserts aren’t providing the nutrition our bodies need to heal.
- We all need to eat more organic, locally grown vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
My dietary journey
I’m a researcher, not a nutritionist, but I’ve always been interested in preparing and eating healthy foods and have experimented with many different diets over the years.
I grew up on a ranch in Montana where we raised our own organic, grass-fed Hereford cattle. My mother essentially fed us a “Paleolithic” diet, with lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat, but few starches. (Although of course no one called it that then, it was just a normal diet to us.)
As a young adult I spent 10 years following a vegetarian diet. I carefully combined grains and rice with vegetables and ate eggs, some cheese and occasional fish for protein. Along with most of my vegetarian friends, I experienced digestive issues, weight gain and mood swings.
I arrived in Rome at the age of 29 and spent the next 26 years eating the classic Mediterranean diet. This included pasta, bread and rice, lots of vegetables and fruits, small quantities of meat/lamb/chicken/fish, olive oil, and of course red wine. On this diet my energy levels greatly improved, as did my mood swings and digestion.
Unfortunately my healthy diet didn’t keep me from suddenly developing the symptoms of MS. After this diagnosis, my research into diet and healing became much more intense and personal. Fortunately, I had access to Google by then!
The Kousmine Diet
The first dietary approach to healing MS that I discovered was called the Kousmine Diet. Dr. Catherine Kousmine (1904-1992) was born in Russia, but emigrated with her family to Switzerland in 1918. She became a physician and dedicated her life to researching ways to treat MS and cancer through dietary approaches. (Dr. Kousmine’s many books are published in French, Italian, Spanish and German, but not in English.)
The Kousmine Diet is the main alternative diet for treating MS in Italy. Essentially it recommends eating very small quantities of saturated fats. Therefore, fish and chicken breasts are allowed, but beef is not. It uses raw, organic sunflower oil and lots of organic whole grains, including some organic whole wheat. Breakfast consists of Budwig Cream, a mixture of freshly ground cereals, flax, sunflower seeds, fruit, cold pressed sunflower or flaxseed oil, and cottage cheese or yogurt.
The Kousmine diet recommends organic vegetables and fruits but avoids all processed food, white sugar, and refined flours. I followed this diet for a year, even making my own bread with flour I ground at home from various organic whole grains.
Many people have reported increased health by following this diet; in fact, the first two people I met who had cured their MS symptoms used this approach to heal themselves. For me, however, the diet did not precipitate any particular changes in my symptoms–other than that I felt rather bloated from all of the grains.
The Swank Diet
I next discovered the Swank diet. Dr Roy Swank (1909-2008) lived in Portland, Oregon, and was a contemporary of Dr. Kousmine. His diet is very similar to Kousmine’s: an emphasis on very low saturated fats, almost no red meat, and no processed foods. It doesn’t restrict either dairy (if it is 1% or less butterfat) or gluten grains.
Dr. Swank followed 150 MS patients on his diet for 34 years. Almost none of the people who remained on the diet deteriorated significantly. You can read more about the Swank MS Foundation at www.swankmsdiet.org.
Back to the Paleolithic Diet
My ongoing research next led me to the concept of “Paleolithic” diets, meaning the kind of food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten. This includes meat, vegetables and fruit; it does not include any grains, dairy, refined products or sugar. Two versions of this approach include The Best Bet Diet and Terry Wahl’s Diet.
The Best Bet Diet
I discovered The Best Bet Diet online. It was created by Dr. Ashton Embry, PHD, a research scientist in Calgary, Canada. In 1995 his son was diagnosed with MS and in an effort to help him heal, Dr. Embry began conducting extensive research into what nutritional factors affect the MS disease process. I highly recommend visiting his website (www.direct-MS.org) because it is full of useful information and research on ways to treat MS.
The key elements of this diet are: Avoid all dairy, grains, legumes, eggs, yeast, red meat, sugar, and margarine. Eat fish and skinless chicken and turkey breasts for protein, plus fruits and vegetables, olive oil and unrefined sunflower oil.
Many people have been healed by following this diet, including Ashton’s son.
Soon after returning to Portland in 2006, I began seriously following these recommendations and eliminated all dairy, sugar, and grains from my diet. Over time, many of my symptoms have improved, such as problems with my vision and cold feet. Other symptoms, however, have not improved, such as a weak right ankle and semi-numbness in my legs. But my energy levels are normal, and I have no pain.
The Terry Wahls Diet
In 2003 Terry Wahls, MD, was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS. Her health deteriorated rapidly and for four years she was confined to a tilt-recline wheelchair. Terry began conducting intensive research into what our cells and mitochondria need to function; her discoveries led her to make major changes in her diet. Within 18 months, she was not only able to walk again, but to ride her bicycle 5 miles every day.
The Wahls diet eliminates all grains, dairy, processed foods and sugar. It includes grass-fed organic meats, wild game, chicken, fish, eggs and organ meats.
Most important, this diet emphasizes large quantities of vegetables, including daily consumption of 3 cups of dark, leafy greens, 3 cups of cruciferous vegetables and 3 cups of other colorful vegetables. It also includes daily consumption of berries and other fruits, plus seeds and nuts.
Dr. Wahls’ website is: www.terrywahls.com. and her book about her healing journey is: Minding My Mitochondria: How I overcame secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) and got out of my wheelchair.
To watch a video of Dr. Wahls talking about how she healed from severe MS symptoms, go to http://bit.ly/GZA5yS.
Dr Wahls’ dietary recommendations are healing not only those with MS, but with many other chronic diseases as well.
Which diet is correct?
There is no easy answer to this question. Each of us has individual requirements, needs certain nutrients at certain times, and has different food sensitivities and allergies. The best we can do is try different approaches and see what works for us personally. How does a particular food make us feel? Does it increase or decrease our energies?
In my case, avoiding grains, dairy and sugar and adding lots more kale and other greens to my diet has made a huge difference in how I feel. An additional incentive to eating this way is that it has been easy to maintain my weight!
I’d like to thank Alissa Segersten at Whole Life Nutrition for letting me use her beautiful picture of baby kale at the beginning of this blog. Alissa also has a delightful food blog at www.nourishingmeals.com that has lots of very tasty and healthy recipes that are all gluten free.