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Radio 4 MS research review

Martin Baum

Caroline Wyatt’s Radio 4 reports on MS research certainly lived up to the BBC’s remit to educate, inform and entertain.

Learning MS trivia

Even as someone with secondary progressive MS, I learned more MS-related trivia over the series of programmes than I did in my lifetime living with the illness.

For instance:

  • There's a theory that the genetic origins of MS could be traced back to the Vikings, who colonised many of the areas in Northern Europe where rates of MS are higher
  • Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, which may be due to the lack of sunlight from November to March
  • Harry Potter author JK Rowling helped fund a research centre for multiple sclerosis in Edinburgh (her late mother had MS).

Myelin sheath damage and stem cell replacement

The series involved Caroline looking at current research into MS. Specifically, the damage done to the myelin sheath and research into stem cells.

Caroline’s journey took her to the MS Society Tissue Bank, where researchers are analysing human tissue to find out more about how MS affects the brain.

This work wouldn’t be possible without people with MS signing up to donate their brains and spinal cords for research after their death – something that’s since given me pause for thought.

Aside from the brain bank, Caroline’s journey took her to the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. This is where work is being done to reverse some of the damage done by MS.

Cutting out food groups to treat MS

But for me the most interesting part was about MS and diets. We heard from Professor George Jelinek, an MSer himself, who advocates cutting out dairy and meat, and reducing fat intake – particularly saturated fat. He was influenced by Dr Roy Swank, who had a paper published in the Lancet in 1990 about the effects of saturated fat on MS progression.

Professor Jelinek removed meat from his diet, undertook daily meditation and by living in Australia he benefited from constant vitamin D. Subsequently he claimed to have overcome his MS.

The importance of a balanced diet

In the final episode Dr Sorrel Bickley, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, took a different viewpoint about diets. She said there was a lack of evidence that cutting out a food group or adhering to a restrictive diet helps with MS. 

Dr Bickley’s final analysis of what was a compelling series by Caroline Wyatt, connected with my own point of view of living with MS: "Many people find that eating a healthy balanced diet combined with exercise will improve their quality of life.”

A simple philosophy that we can all benefit from, not just the MS community.

Martin is an MS blogger and influencer. You can read more of his blogs at

Caroline Wyatt's reports on MS research ran between Monday 10 June to Friday 14 June on BBC Radio 4's PM programme. You can listen to recent PM episodes on the BBC website.