An estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. have MS and another 200 are diagnosed with the disease every week.  Multiple sclerosis is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 50 and women are diagnosed with the disease nearly 3 times more often than men.    

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease—one in which the body attacks itself—in this case the immune system attacks the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

MS is more common in Northern latitudes and less common in countries near the equator. MS is more common in wealthy countries and less common in poorer countries.  Caucasians of Northern European ancestry are diagnosed more often than other nationalities. When people move to a new area they tend to take on the risk level (higher or lower) of the area to which they have located.

According to the web site of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society there is not really a treatment nor a cause that is understood.  However, the site does give four ways to manage symptoms: 1) Medication; 2) Self-care techniques (stress reduction); 3) Rehabilitation (with a physical or occupational therapist or a speech/language pathologist); and 4) the use of assistive devices.

In the last two decades, nine new drugs have come on the market to treat M.S.; at least four more are currently being tested on humans. Yet for all the new options, many of the 2.1 million people worldwide afflicted with the disease have not seen improvements, and some MS patients find that the adverse reactions from the drugs aren’t worth the benefits. 

Even though the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation states that "There is no credible evidence that MS is due to poor diet or dietary deficiencies," other researchers have found good results with diet changes.    

Dr. Roy Swank studied multiple sclerosis for many years.  He conducted his best-known trial on 144 MS patients recruited from the Montreal Neurological Institute.  He kept records on these patients for the next thirty-four years.  As the study continued, Dr. Swank found that progression of disease was greatly reduced by the low-saturated fat diet, which worked even for people with initially advanced conditions. 
People in wealthy countries have diets high in animal-based foods while people in poorer countries more often eat plant-based foods. One exception to the observation of wealthy countries having more cases of MS, is Japan.  Even though Japan is a wealthy country, the rates of multiple sclerosis are lower.  The explanation for this: even though the Japanese have money, stress, pollution, and the smoking habits characteristic of people in other industrialized nations, their traditional rice-based diet is more characteristic of the plant-based foods consumed in poorer nations. 
Dr. Swank summarized his work in 1990, concluding that for the group of patients who began the low-saturated fat diet during the earlier stages of their disease, "about 95% remained only mildly disabled for approximately thirty years."  Only 5% of those patients died.  In contrast, 80% of the patients with early-stage MS who consumed the higher fat diet died of MS. 

More recently, additional studies have confirmed and extended Swank's observations and gradually have begun to place more emphasis on cow's milk.  These new studies show that consuming cow's milk is strongly linked to MS. 

One theory about MS is that because it happens more often in the Northern hemisphere, lack of vitamin D could be a factor.  Think of vitamin D in relationship to foods.  The first step in the vitamin D process is when you go outside on a sunny day.  When the sunshine hits your exposed skin, the skin produces vitamin D.  The vitamin D then must be activated in the kidney in order to produce a form that helps repress the development of autoimmune diseases.   

This critically important activation step can be inhibited by foods that are high in calcium and by acid-producing animal proteins like cow's milk (some grains also produce excess acid). 

Too few people are told that within 10 years of diagnosis nearly half of those with Multiple Sclerosis will be: unable to walk unassisted, wheelchair bound, bedridden or dead from their disease – even with the best treatments available. 

With this hard look at the reality of MS more people would be interested in a treatment that is cost-free, side-effect free and stops the disease in over 90% of those people with early disease. The results of the low-fat diet treatment for MS developed by Roy Swank, MD, former head of the department of Neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School were remarkable. Dr. Swank treated over 5000 patients during his 50-year career before his death in 2008. 

For the best results, patients have to follow the Swank Diet strictly because even small amounts of fat make a huge difference. In the study he published in the medical journal, the Lancet, in 1990, Dr. Swank found that a difference of eight grams of saturated fat intake daily resulted in a threefold increased chance of dying from multiple sclerosis.

Early cases are expected to do especially well on the diet.  As the years with the disease accumulate then the response to diet is expected to be less dramatic, but there are exceptions with some advanced cases responding very well.  

If a person begins the program with limited disability and follows the Swank Diet carefully he or she has less than a 5% chance of dying from MS over the next 34 years—those who do not follow the diet have an 80% chance of dying.  If patients go off of the diet for a month or so they will get into trouble. 

Dr. Swank said, “Our figures show that at least 95% of people with MS that follow a low-fat diet show no progression of disease.”  However, with normal aging there is deterioration of the nervous system even when the MS disease is not active.

According to Dr. Swank, about one in 500 people will have a downhill course even when they follow the diet strictly.  

Dr. Swank reiterated, “I tell people that they have to have persistence and a real desire to get well or there is no point in going on this diet. If they are not devoted to taking care of their health then they are going to have trouble; and finally, I tell them to be optimistic, it’s very helpful.”   

12 Rules of the MS Diet

1. Do not eat any animal products including beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.

2. Do not eat oil of any kind (including olive oil).

3. Do not eat coconut or drink coconut milk.

4. Eat 2-3 green vegetables every day.

5. Plan your meals around a starch (beans, potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat pastas) 

6. Don't use fake meats or cheeses.

7. Read the ingredient list on processed foods and avoid those with fat, oils, chemicals, too much salt or too much sugar.

8. Water is your drink of choice.  Don't drink your calories.

9. Eat oats or oatmeal (not instant) every day.

10.  If you are serious about changing your diet, you will have to make cooking a priority.  It is too hard to keep your fat-content low when you eat in restaurants more than once or twice a week.

11. Purchase a copy of Coco's Healthy Cooking.  I have cooked nearly every meal for the past 2 years directly from that cook book.  Just find the recipes you like (without the oil) and use them over and over.  If you get tired of that book, look for another low-fat, plant-based cook book.

12. Don't take supplements.