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Diet Schmiet? Swank diet results strongly support low fat intake for MS patients.

Hillary Swank
Hillary Swank is not associated with the Swank MS Diet, but who cares?

Thanks to Rachel Melisa Thomas of Michelangelo’s Angel’s over on Facebook (and to the MS Princess who suggested this months ago) for the suggestion of this article at written by George Jelenik, a medical professor and MS sufferer. (Is there a better word than sufferer?)

In the article, George, who himself has managed his illness with a low saturated fat diet (high in Omega 3 and Vitamin D)–and what I have often referred to here as the Mediterranean diet–recounts the research of one  Dr. Roy Swank (no relation to Hillary but she looks better than the 99 year old Dr. Swank.)

Dr. Swank, back in the 40’s (the decade, not his age),  made the observation that MS seemed to follow the consumption of saturated fat, particularly dairy products, and was lower wherever fish consumption was high.  Some have suggested that the rise in the diagnosis of MS may be in part due to the relevant rise in saturated fat consumption in the modern (at least Western) diet.

In 1949, Dr. Swank studied 150 MS patients over 34 years whom he had on a low saturated fat diet.  The study technically did not meet the rigors of most medical research as it did not include a blind study group (among other things); however, the results were indeed published in the Lancet medical journal.

At the end of the study, 72 patients who had stuck to the diet (consuming less than  20g of saturated fat a day did not show significant signs of physical deterioration (and remember this was before disease modifying drugs–and probably why there wasn’t a “blind” study group.)

More positive results skewed toward those who started the diet with minimum disability–meaning, it’s hard to play catch up; however, there were marked benefits to all groups that stayed on the diet, including those with more  significant disability.  In fact, there was a dramatic fall in the relapse rate after one started the diet, regardless, going from 1 relapse a year to .05 relapses a year on average.

For those that did not stick to the diet, however, the results were…well, you don’t wanna know. Remember, this is when most people died when they had MS.

So, while I’ve read countless articles about how high saturated fat diets and inflammatory foods (glutens and sugars) can exacerbate MS and other autoimmune diseases, this is a rather compelling narrative for the value of such diets, particularly, in my opinion, because none of the participants were on other disease modifying drugs.

All this comes with perfect timing for “The Quest,” as we (okay…I) have decided to take a similar approach to managing my illness and use this blog to communicate my progress (or lack thereof) going forward.

While the Swank MS Foundation has it’s own diet, which focuses on low saturated fats, it also allows a great deal of gluten and carbohydrates, and my jury is still out on the impact of those food elements.  (Although I can attest to the negative impact red meat can have as I suffered my worst symptoms when I was actually trying to convalesce at my family’s home in Argentina eating–as is the custom there–pretty much nothing but dead cows for a month).

So I will go back a bit further in my roots to Spain and adopt a strict Mediterranean diet, low in saturated fat, high in fish oils (and fish), lots of vegetables and fruit, and little or no dairy products (at least not those from cows).

We’ll see how it goes.


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One thought on “Diet Schmiet? Swank diet results strongly support low fat intake for MS patients.

  1. ooh yeah, Hilary as mascot: great idea

    so anyway, I looked up 'sufferer' in the theasaurus. yeah, not good. the alternates made 'sufferer' seem almost uplifting ('lame duck', 'wreck' anyone!!?) … although 'valetudinarian' and the achaic 'lazar' had a certain je ne sais quoi??

    Perhaps an MS-er?

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