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Replacing saturated fat with flaxseed oil: a sensible strategy?

A paper from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that people with MS should replace saturated fat with flaxseed oil.

One thing that always struck me in reading Swank's original paper on a low saturated fat diet for people with MS, and his book The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, was that not only did the people who did best over the 34 years of the study reduce their saturated fat dramatically, they also correspondingly increased their intake of unsaturated fats, such as flaxseed oil. In other words, they were in effect replacing the bad (saturated) fats in their diet with good (unsaturated) fats or oils.

This is one of the reasons I have always recommended increasing consumption of unsaturated fats on the OMS diet, although with modern knowledge about the great health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, I therefore recommended increasing these particular polyunsaturated fats.

Initially, the literature suggested fish oil was best, but as time went on and fish oil was questioned in many studies, particularly those in heart disease, I began to investigate flaxseed oil, a plant-based oil, as the preferred omega 3.

This was dramatically confirmed in our HOLISM study where we noted that of the 2,500 PwMS world-wide who were in the study, those taking flaxseed oil supplements regularly had over 60% fewer relapses than those not taking it; for fish oil there was essentially no difference.

However, little else has been published in the area, and it is always good to see other scientists confirm findings. So I was extremely happy to come across a paper from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews recently that provided some evidence in the area.

The review was about heart disease, but we know that heart disease and MS share many common features, most particularly that the same risk factors appear to be involved in the progression of the disease.

This review by UK scientists analysed all the randomized controlled trials where participants reduced saturated fat intake in comparison to others who did not and looked at outcomes from cardiovascular disease.

These were strong trials that included nearly 60,000 people. Reducing saturated fat intake caused a 17% reduction in cardiovascular events, but only where participants replaced the saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat.

This is extremely reassuring; it is exactly what Swank found in his landmark study (see p74 of his book), and strongly supports what we recommend here at OMS. People with MS should markedly reduce their saturated fat consumption, at the same time increasing their intake of flaxseed oil.

Swank recommended 20mls or more daily, and that remains our recommendation, although in time, we hope that further research can clarify the optimal amount, which may be anything up to 50mls/day of flaxseed oil.

Professor George Jelinek 

diet flaxseed oil Saturated fat