Mc Doughall Jhon, Treating Multiple Sclerosis With Diet Fact or Fraud .pdf
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Treating Multiple Sclerosis
With Diet: Fact or Fraud?
5 1 0 0 W I S C O N S I N A V E., N. W., S U I T E 4 0 0 • W A S H I N G T O N, D C 2 0 0 1 6
PHONE (202) 686-2210 • FAX (202) 686-2216 • PCRM@PCRM.ORG • WWW.PCRM.ORG
By John A. McDougall, M.D.
modern, industrialized country with all the stress, pollution,
and smoking habits common to other industrialized nations,
their rice-based diet is more characteristic of the foods consumed in poorer nations where MS is less common. The
Japanese case provides strong evidence that a diet heavy in
animal foods, not other “modern” scourges, may lay the foundation for MS.
Of course, all aspects of a diet filled with rich foods can cause
problems, but animal fats—especially those from dairy products—have been the most closely linked to the development
of MS.1 One theory suggests that feeding cow’s milk to infants lays the foundation for nervous system injury later in
life. Cow’s milk has only one-fifth as much linoleic acid (an
essential fatty acid) as human breast milk. Linoleic acid makes
up the building blocks for nervous tissues. It may be that
children raised on a high animal-fat diet deficient in linoleic
acid (as most children are in our society) develop a weaker
nervous system that is susceptible to problems as they age.
Analysis of brain tissues has shown that people with MS have
a higher saturated fat content in their brains than people without the disease.2
What precipitates the attacks of MS is unknown, but the
suspected culprits include viruses, allergic reactions, and disturbances of the flow of blood to the brain. Most likely, the
offender is connected to the circulatory system in the brain or
spinal cord, because the lesions and scarring characteristic of
MS are centered in nerve cells near blood vessels.
One theory holds that the MS attacks are caused by a decreased supply of blood to the sensitive brain tissues. Dietary
fat can have this effect. It enters the bloodstream and coats the
blood cells. As a result, the cells stick together, forming clumps
that slow the flow of blood to vital tissues. The blood does not
form clots (as in the case of strokes), but in many blood vessels
the clumping becomes so severe that the flow of blood stops
and the overall oxygen content of the blood falls.3,4 Tissues
deprived of blood and oxygen for long periods of time will die.
Could something this simple be a factor in MS?
As an example, let’s take a look at the health of people on a
fat-restricted diet. During World War II, food was scarce and
stress was high in occupied Western Europe. People could no
longer afford to eat meat, so they turned instead to the grains
ost health professionals dismiss the idea that multiple
sclerosis (MS), a degenerative disease of the nervous system, might be linked to diet. It seems ridiculous to them that so
mysterious a disease may be affected by something so simple.
Rather than looking to the kitchen for answers, the medical
establishment expects a cure for multiple sclerosis to come from
high-tech research that will pinpoint some culprit—a virus,
perhaps, or a glitch in the immune system.
Nevertheless, when I ask physicians and dietitians for hard
evidence proving that diet has nothing to do with the cause or
cure of MS, they consistently come up empty-handed. I have
yet to see a study that says diet will not help MS victims. In fact,
all the existing scientific evidence points to diet as the most
Multiple sclerosis is the most common degenerative inflammatory neurological disease in the U.S., striking people primarily between the ages of 15 and 55. It is characterized by numerous lesions—areas of damage—on the nerve cells of the brain
and/or spinal cord. The lesions are replaced by hard scar tissue, causing the nerve cells to stop functioning. The nearly
500,000 Americans with MS suffer recurrent attacks on the nervous system that rob them of various functions and senses.
One attack may take a victim’s vision; the next may cause loss of
bladder control; a few months later, one arm or leg may no
longer have strength. After ten years with the disease, half of all
MS victims are severely disabled—bedridden, wheelchairbound, or worse.
Multiple sclerosis is common in Canada, the U.S., and
Northern Europe, but rare in Africa and Asia. When people
migrate from a country of low MS incidence (which inevitably changes the way they live and eat), their risk for getting
the disease increases. Many studies have investigated the
environmental factors that could account for the difference
in disease occurrence among various populations. The main
factor appears to be the strongest contact we have with our
environment: our daily food intake.
Although wealthy countries generally have higher rates
of MS and less affluent countries have lower ones, there is
one exception: Japan. Even though the Japanese live in a
and vegetables that once nourished their cows, chickens, and
pigs. The result was a dramatic reduction in the intake of animal products and of total fat in the diet. Doctors observed that
patients with MS had 2 to 2½ times fewer hospitalizations during the war years.5
Roy Swank, M.D., former head of University of Oregon’s
neurology department and now a practicing physician at Oregon Health Sciences University, observed that MS patients improved on this forced low-fat diet. In the 1950s, Swank began
treating his own patients with such a diet. He got excellent
results, so for the next 35 years he treated thousands of MS
patients in this way. By any medical standard, his results have
been remarkable: patients’ conditions improved by as much as
95 percent.6 Patients fared better if they had detected the
disease early and had had few attacks, but even long-time MS
sufferers experienced a slowdown of the disease’s progression. Originally Swank was most concerned with limiting
saturated fat, but over the years he has become more attuned
to the dangers of all kinds of fat. His MS diet is now about
20 percent fat by calories.
Swank’s results are unchallenged by other studies. But instead of advocating a low-fat vegetarian diet for MS patients,
many doctors either ignore Swank’s work or dismiss it because
they think the diet would be too difficult to follow. When I
asked Swank why his studies have largely been ignored by the
MS research establishment, he told me, “John, I’m a little guy in
this little lab at the university. Their research funds didn’t pay
for this, so how could it be important?”
Three important findings emerged from Swank’s research:
The 8-gram difference in daily intake of saturated fat (which
triples the death rate for victims of MS) can mean as little as:
The findings are clear. To arrest MS, the diet must be as low
in saturated fat as possible, approximately 6 percent of total
calories. That translates into a low-fat vegetarian diet: one of
starches, vegetables, and fruits—delicious foods containing only
5 to 10 percent total fat. If you skip eggs, dairy products, and
tropical oils such as coconut or palm kernel oil, you eat virtually no saturated fat.
Besides arresting MS, a low-fat vegetarian diet promotes
weight loss in the obese, relieves constipation, and cuts the food
bill by 40 percent. In fact, this type of diet is in line with recommendations made by other health organizations (including the
American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and
the Surgeon General’s office) that urge Americans to eat less fat,
meat, and dairy products, while adding more whole grains,
vegetables, and fruits.
I treat my MS patients with a whole food vegetarian diet
with no added oil, eggs, or dairy products. The foods are
familiar—oatmeal, cold cereals, waffles, and pancakes for breakfast; soups and vegetable sandwiches for lunch; and spaghetti,
bean burritos, chili, and stir-“fried” vegetables for dinner.
I’ve been very gratified by the results of this dietary treatment, not only because the progress of most of my MS patients’ disease has been halted, but also because their overall
health has unquestionably improved. And everyone knows
that MS sufferers need every bit of help they can get.
1. The earlier an MS patient adopted a low-fat diet, the better
the chance of avoiding deterioration and death from the
2. Patients who limited their saturated fat intake to less than
20 grams a day no longer showed the expected deterioration from the disease. (Most Americans eat 125 grams or
more each day.)
3. Among patients whose saturated fat intake was 17 grams
or less daily, the death rate over a 35-year-period was 31
percent—close to normal. The death rate was 21 percent
for the patients who kept to that low level of fat consumption and who started the diet within three years of diagnosis of the disease. On the other hand, patients consuming
more than 25 grams of saturated fat daily had a death rate
of 79 percent over the period of the study; nearly half of
those deaths were directly due to MS.
Am J Med 1959;26:68.
Am J Med 1950;220:421.
Arch Neurol 1970;23:460.
Reprinted with permission from Vegetarian Times, P.O. Box 570,
Oak Park, IL 60303. One year U.S. subscription—$24.00.
1 oz. pork sausage (10 grams)
1 medium-fat hamburger (14 grams)
3 oz. porterhouse steak (14 grams)
1 oz. cheddar cheese (9 grams)
2 tsp. butter (8 grams)
1 cup whole milk (8 grams)