Dairy Products and MS: Are They Really Harmful?


Current research is examining the link between diet and multiple sclerosis (MS). The goal is to find out if food choices can help manage MS, prevent flare-ups, and slow disease progression.

Some people recommend avoiding dairy products or following specific diets. Some studies suggest that dairy products can make MS worse. Dietary habits or specific nutrients may play a role in relapsing MS.

We know that there is an increase in inflammation with a relapse of MS. We also know that certain diets can reduce inflammation. The hope is that foods and nutrients may play a role in reducing symptoms and slowing the progression of MS.

It’s hard to say for sure. Research shows that a diet rich in saturated fats can increase inflammation in the body.

Saturated fat is mostly found in animal products. Dairy products are a source of saturated fat. Whole milk and yogurt, cream, cheese, butter, and ice cream all contain saturated fat. Other sources of saturated fat include meat, poultry skin, coconut, and egg yolks.

It is always difficult to determine exactly which parts of the diet may be problematic. A typical North American diet is high in saturated fat, but it is also high in refined carbohydrates. Refined white grains and foods high in sugar are also linked to inflammation. It may be more helpful to look at eating habits as a whole instead.

It is not recommended that all people with MS avoid dairy products. Dairy products provide nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

We need protein to build and repair cells in the body. It also plays a role in maintaining a strong immune system. Other sources of protein are nuts, seeds, beans, fish, and seafood.

Vitamin D and calcium are important for healthy bones. People with MS need to make sure they have enough because they are at greater risk of osteoporosis. In fact, higher blood levels of Vitamin D are associated with better results.

You may want to discuss dietary changes with your doctor to address your specific concerns. A dairy-free diet may not be right for everyone. If you decide to cut back or eliminate dairy, there are other ways to meet your nutrient needs.

If you decide to cut back or avoid dairy because of other issues, you will need to find other ways to get the nutrients that dairy would provide. The main ones are calcium and vitamin D.

Other sources of calcium include:

  • milk replacement drinks with added calcium, such as soy, almond and oat drinks
  • orange juice enriched with calcium
  • sardines and canned salmon with bones
  • leafy green vegetables
  • tofu and some beans
  • some nuts and seeds

Our bodies make vitamin D in response to sunlight. However, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D this way, especially if you live in an area without full sun all year round. Most people need a vitamin D supplement.

People with MS usually have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood. Research shows that high doses of vitamin D may be needed to normalize levels.

a little to study starting in 2010, participants with MS were taking up to 40,000 IU of vitamin D per day. This is far more than the normal recommendation of 1000-2000IU per day. There may be some benefits, but more research is needed in this area.

It is not recommended to take such a high dose on your own. Talk to your doctor about getting blood tests to check your vitamin D status. This can help determine the right dose of vitamin D supplement.

Research is being done on the best way to eat to manage MS. Some research suggests that dairy products should be avoided. However, the supporting data are very limited. This may be a good approach for some people as long as other foods provide enough calcium.

People with MS tend to have low levels of vitamin D. It is a good idea to have blood tests to check your levels. Supplementation will likely be necessary to reach target levels.

About Thomas B. Countryman

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