NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Multiple Sclerosis affects about 400,000 people in the United States, and current treatments can have severe side effects.
But what if changing your diet could help battle the disease?
As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, that’s just what researchers at Mt. Sinai are testing.
Once a month, a pioneering group of MS patients meet to get tips from a nutritionist, and also share their temptations.
Neurologist Dr. Ilana Katz Sand is leading one of the first clinical trials to study the link between what we eat, gut bacteria, and MS symptoms.
“The gut is actually kind of a natural place to look, and that’s because the immune system — about 70 percent of it — lives inside the gut and has far reaching implications throughout the rest of the body,” Dr. Katz Sand said.
In MS, inflammation occurs when the immune cells attack the brain and spinal cord.
The study is testing whether a dietary intervention can reprogram the immune system to slow down the assault on the nervous system.
Kerane Providence, and the other patients enrolled in the trial, are following a strict Mediterranean style diet, devoid of any processed foods, dairy, or meat. Rather, the diet calls for heavy doses of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
“We think that those are anti-inflammatory, we also think that they’re neuroprotective,” Dr. Katz Sand said.
MS symptoms — including fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, and cognitive changes — can be severe and disabling.
“I was really fearful because I have a family, I have my children, I have my husband,” Kerane said.
But with the help of medication,she is still able to work nights as an oncology nurse, more than four years after her diagnosis.
“If I can participate in a diet that can change my life, give me longevity,” Kerane said.
While sticking to the diet can be a little tough, the volunteers like it even if it doesn’t do much for their MS — it also happens to be very heart healthy, with some patients already reporting to have more energy.
The first study is small, with about 30 patients, and it will be six months before researchers know if the diet has any measurable impact on MS symptoms.