For most people with MS, the best diet is a healthy, varied one. And lots of people with MS say that when they eat well, they feel better.
Researching diet is very difficult, and at the moment there’s not much scientific evidence that any special diets affect the way MS develops. But a healthy balanced diet can help you stay in the best health possible and guard against other issues, like heart disease and strokes.
What foods should I eat if I've got MS?
Aim for a healthy, balanced diet. That’s one that gives you the right amounts of different kinds of nutrients:
- proteins – for growth and tissue repair
- carbohydrates – for energy
- fats – for energy, to help your body absorb certain vitamins, and for essential fatty acids
- fibre – for healthy digestion and regular bowel movement
- vitamins and minerals – essential nutrients needed for your body to work properly, including tissue repair, bone strength and for absorbing other nutrients
- fluids – so the body can work at its best. Water carries nutrients around the body and is used in the chemical processes that happen in our cells
How can a balanced diet help?
A balanced diet combined with exercise can help you stay in the best health possible – particularly useful when living with a long-term condition. For example, it can help you:
- keep a healthy weight
- feel less tired and manage fatigue
- have regular toilet habits (bowel and bladder)
- keep your skin in good condition - important if you're spending more time sitting or lying down
- keep your bones healthy and strong
- maintain healthy teeth and gums
- improve muscle strength and range of motion
- increase flexibility
- reduce the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and certain cancers
What about supplements?
If you’re eating a balanced diet then you should be getting enough of most vitamins and minerals through your food. Research suggests this is the best way to get the nutrients you need, rather than through supplements.
But there could be reasons you might need to take supplements. For example, everyone should consider regular vitamin D supplements.
If you do take supplements, remember that high doses of certain vitamins can sometimes be harmful. This is because some vitamins are stored in the body, so they can build up. There’s more information about vitamins and minerals on the NHS Choices website.
Food allergies and intolerances
There’s no conclusive evidence to support excluding specific foods from your diet to treat MS. But, just like anyone else, people with MS can react to particular foods. If you think you have an allergy or intolerance, speak to your GP who can help you to look into it further. There’s more information about the signs of allergies and intolerance on the NHS Choices website.
Can I drink alcohol if I’ve got MS?
You don’t have to give up alcohol because you’ve got MS. There hasn’t been much research into alcohol and MS, but the evidence doesn’t suggest it makes MS worse in the long run.
Of course, alcohol can have all sorts of effects of the body, which could make MS symptoms worse. For example, some people with MS say it makes their balance and coordination worse. It can also irritate your bladder and affect your sleep. As with people who don’t have MS, the short-term effects of what you drink vary from person to person.
Alcohol can interfere with some medications. Your GP, pharmacist or MS team can tell you if you if that’s the case for anything you’re prescribed.
The NHS has guidance on alcohol for all men and women. It says there’s no completely safe level of drinking, but sticking within the guidelines lowers your risk of harming your health.
They advise people to drink no more than 14 units a week. They say you should spread that over 3 or more days, not all in 1 or 2 days. As a guide, a pint of 5.2% alcohol beer is 3 units. A bottle of 13.5% wine is 10 units.
Can I drink coffee if I've got MS?
You don’t need to stop drinking coffee because you’ve got MS. Some research suggests coffee might even have health benefits, including reducing the chance of heart disease.
One study into coffee and MS found that people with relapsing forms of MS who drank coffee every day had a slower development of symptoms than those who never drank coffee. But the evidence isn’t strong enough to recommend everyone with relapsing MS drinks coffee. And we also don’t know how much coffee might be the best amount to drink if it does have benefits.
We do know drinking too much coffee can have side effects like nervousness, irritability and stomach upset. And coffee and other drinks with caffeine in them can make you need the toilet more often and affect your sleep.
The effects of caffeine vary from person to person, but 4 cups a day would seem to be completely healthy for most people. If you’re pregnant, the NHS recommends you drink no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. That’s about 2 coffees.
Who can help with diet and nutrition?
Your GP can tell you more about healthy eating, and most surgeries will have information leaflets you can take home.
You can ask for a referral to a dietitian, who can help if you have any particular nutritional or energy needs – for example, if you have a constant tremor, or you’re underweight, or if you have another health condition which might affect your diet. A dietitian can help you plan your meals so that you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
An occupational therapist can help you find easier ways to prepare food, perhaps to save energy or to manage a tremor.
The national NHS websites all have more information about healthy eating:
- NHS UK - Eat well
- NHS Inform (Scotland) - Food and nutrition
- Public Health Wales - What you can do to eat well
- nidirect (Northern Ireland) - Healthy eating