Several long-term studies show a close connection between saturated fats and the development and progression of MS. People with MS who avoid saturated fats (such as meat or dairy fat) but consume unsaturated fats (such as those from fish and flax) typically have reduced progression of the disease – and in many cases experience minimal effects from it.
The most important research on this topic is by Professor Roy Laver Swank, of the Swank Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Portland, Oregon. He initially found that MS followed the consumption of saturated fat and was lower among people who ate fish (which is rich in omega-3 fats). This led to a compelling 34-year, 150-patient study that began in 1949. Published in The Lancet in 1990, it showed that people who adhered to a diet very low in saturated fats had dramatically better health outcomes than those who did not.
Swank’s diet for MS had a huge advantage over other tried therapies. It was not a passive approach; it gave patients active control over their illness through major lifestyle change. The power of such control should not be underestimated. Self-determination may significantly affect immune function and mental state. A modified form of Swank’s diet, taking into account modern data on fats, forms the centerpiece of the Overcoming MS program.
To read more on how diet affects MS, and to see sources, see the MS Encyclopedia or view Prof. Jelinek discussing Professor Roy Swank’s revolutionary research spanning 34 years on the connection between diet and MS here.