Ask The Doc

Focusing on the most pressing questions about MS and the Swank MS Diet with answers from doctors affiliated with us, inlcuding Laurie Mischley, N.D., and Wendy Ellis, N.D., both of whom use the Swank MS Diet in treating MS patients at their clinics.

We've selected some questions and their answers to share with you, and at the bottom of this page you will find a form with which to send questions of your own, as well as our policies on submissions.

I'm confused by the fats issue -- saturated fats=bad...polunsaturated fats=good, mono unsaturated fats= that right?

- Thomas

Yes, Thomas, that is correct. It is easier if you think of animal fats or fats from animals as saturated fat and usually the fat from grown food or produce, nuts, seeds and grains is considered unsaturated. Fish is one of the exceptions because (some consider an animal) it is unsaturated fat, and the best kind. The eicosapentanoic acid or EPA in the fat is very good to help support nerve myelination and is also anti-inflammatory!

Beef, on the other hand is saturated fat and promotes inflammation because it contains arachidonic acid.

- Erika McKeen, ND

If you have MS, is it alright to get the hepatitis-b vaccine?

- Linda

Yes, most doctors will consider it safe to vaccinate if you have MS; however, because I do not believe that we have all of the answers to our concerns regarding MS, and because many believe that the immune system plays a role in the demylination process and therefore consider it a possible autoimmune movement disorder......I personally would not get this vaccine unless you absolutely need it. If you are a nurse or doctor and working in the ER, then by all means the potential benefit of getting the vaccine may outweigh any possible risk associated with the drug, including an allergic reaction or potential flare-up.

You should definitely talk to your doctor about your own personal medical history and see what they think is best for you. I vaccinate at my clinic but the treatment is different depending on the patient's individual needs.

- Erika McKeen, ND

In the last 9 months I've lost 39lbs. I'm 5'2", and now weigh 111 lbs. I'm eating well, but concerned.

- Barbara

Good for you! This is very common when people change their diet to eliminate all the unhealthy and high calorie acidic saturated fats, they often lose weight. Many of my patients have decreased their weight by more than 39 lbs in 9 months. This is a very safe amount of time to expect to lose weight.

Your weight is now perfect for your height. Please be concerned, however, if you lose any MORE weight OR if you start to feel unwell or experience pain in any area or any other abnormal symptom like fatigue, bruising, night sweats, etc. Phone your doctor if this happens.

Otherwise, way to go! Keep up the great work!

- Erika McKeen, ND

Why is it recommended to avoid legumes and what are some other sources of plant proteins to replace legumes?

- Margaret

You may consume seeds (especially flax seed) and nuts in moderation keeping track of the amount of fat you are intaking daily. A very good source of vegetable protein is brown rice. Quinoa, amaranth, millet and multi grain breads and cereals are also good sources of protein. Some vegetables do contain protein and are safe. Fish (if you are not vegan) is a good alternative to chicken or pork, and certainly a good alternative to red meat (which is not allowed) and egg yolks (not recommended) which have arachidonic acid and may actually worsen inflammation.

- Erika McKeen, ND

What do you think about "I Can't Believe it's not Butter, Light"?

- Carol

It is recommended that you avoid all margarine and immitation dairy products and use real butter (in moderation) instead or a substitution with a natural nut butter, etc. You may mix butter (a saturated fat) with an oil like flax seed oil (poly unsaturated fatty acid).

- Erika McKeen, ND

Are antioxidants bad to eat for people with MS? There is conflicting information on the web about this.

- Elizabeth

Antioxidants stimulate the immune system. MS is an autoimmune disease, therefore, it is theoretically possible that increasing immune activity by using antioxidants can stimulate MS disease activity, though most studies show improvements in MS symptoms with the use of antioxidants. Inflammation in general exacerbates MS, thus, if antioxidants reduce free radicals and inflammation, this is a therapeutic treatment that is recommended to MS patients.

Immune-mediated inflammation, oxidative stress and excitotoxicity, are involved in the immunopathology of MS. Antioxidant deficiencies along with decreased cellular antioxidant defence mechanisms have been observed in MS patients. Antioxidant treatment in experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, an animal model of MS, decreased the clinical signs of disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. Dec. 2005

Basically, because MS is autoimmune, some think that increasing immune response by giving anti-oxidants will be detrimental to the patient. However, research has shown that anti-oxidants upregulate glutathione peroxidase, a powerful detoxification mechanism that protects us from oxidative damage. Selenium also has been shown to have anti-oxidant effects for MS patients. In my personal clinical experience, and in the numerous studies I have found regarding MS and anti-oxidants, only positive benefits have been noted.

- Wendy L. Ellis, ND

I'm wondering about eating acai berries or any other fruit that boosts your immune system

- Amber

The basic information for the previous question applies to this question. Fruits such as acai berry and other fruits that boost the immune system are high in anti-oxidants - and are very important to reduce inflammation and decrease the circulation of free radicals. I am in favor of these fruits, however, it is important that these are organic, because pesticides are very inflammatory in the body, thus negating the positive affect of these foods.

- Wendy L. Ellis, ND

Why are beef and other mild-fat meat allowed after one year? Is it necessary to eat them?

- Valerie

There is often a remarkable change in MS symptoms after 30 days on the Swank diet, however, it may take longer for some patients to see similar benefits. Thus, a more strict approach to the swank diet is recommended for the first year. After one year, when patients begin to introduce red, or other lean meats in the body, the inflammatory response in the body is limited, and much better tolerated by the immune system. We are also finding that free range and organic beef contains more omega three fatty acids and are not pro-inflammatory in the body as compared with conventional "farmed" meats. Probably the best option is not to include red meat at all, however, a small amount once weekly is often tolerated quite well by patients.

- Wendy L. Ellis, ND

My wife feels the worst the day after her betasaron shot. Can betaseron make MS symptoms worse/more damaging? Should diet be a substitute for meds?

- Elias

This is a challenging and controversial question. Betaseron has been shown to reduce the relapse rate in patients who have had only one “episode.” However, the side effects can be quite severe in patients, and may include the following: skin reactions at the injection site, flu like symptoms, weakness, headache, pain, muscle pain, insomnia, coordination problems, abdominal pain, urinary urgency, irregular menses, erectile dysfunction, malaise. With the injections being every other day, patients often have a diminished quality of life due to these side effects.

MS is a delicate disease. You must do your best to reduce any inflammation on the body to improve your prognosis. This may include hormone treatment (addressing thyroid, adrenal, ovary, and testicular dysfunction), avoidance of food allergies, a low fat diet, and adequate vitamin and mineral intake. Patients who are willing to look at their overall health and treat any underlying conditions or deficiencies are the patients who will do well in the long term, without interferon treatment. Though Betaseron and other interferon treatments are the standard of care for patients with relapsing remitting or secondary progressive MS, I often see poor outcomes in these patients due to the severe side effects. Diet and lifestyle changes are a substitute for interferon treatment, but the patient must be very diligent with “alternative” treatments.

- Wendy L. Ellis, ND

Do you know of any strong anti-inflammatory natural remedies that can replace steroid treatment for eye-related Graves disease/MS?

- Melissa

There is no acceptable substiture for steroid treatment in either of these acute conditions. Steroid treatments are common for eye related auto-immune conditions, including Grave’s related exophthalmos, which is due to abnormal connective tissue deposition in the orbit and extraocular muscles. When it becomes significant and noticeable, aggressive treatment with prednisone is commenced, along with low dose radiation therapy to the orbital muscles. With MS, patients experience optic neuritis, which is inflammation of the optic nerve, and the treatment is also prednisone. There is no specific substitute for prednisone - and if left untreated, exophthalmos may lead to permanent corneal damage, untreated optic neuritis leads to optic atrophy and possibly blindness. There is no substitution for prednisone in either of these situations, you must work on addressing overall autoimmunity, which will result in decreased incidence (if at all) in the future.

- Wendy L. Ellis, ND

I am a long distance runner diagnosed with ms last April. I am doing much better, but have been told I risk another relapse if I run a marathon. Is this true?

- Becky

Marathons are very tough on the body, even one not affected with MS. Unfortunatly, any stress on the body leads to a possible relapse of MS. The adrenal gland is responsible for responding to stress by putting out cortisol – training for a marathon is hard work, and often marathon runners have low levels of cortisol due to the constant stress of training, and diminish their ability to produce cortisol to respond to any inflammation, including MS. Let your body be your guide, if you exercise and feel poorly the next day, this is too much for your body and may increase your risk of relapse. If you take good care of your body, eat well, get adequate rest, and support the adrenal glands, marathon running may be perfectly acceptable.

-Wendy L. Ellis, ND

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Note: We're currently working through a backlog of questions, and have temporarily closed taking new questions until we are caught up. We hope to re-open this feature as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience!