Ketogenic diet may improve quality of life in people with MS

March 07, 2022
According to a small, preliminary study, a ketogenic diet, which primarily consists of foods such as meat, fish, eggs, heavy cream, butter, oils and nonstarchy vegetables – such as pea pods, carrots, broccoli and peppers – may be safe for people with multiple sclerosis. The study also found people with MS may experience less fatigue and depression, and report an improved quality of life while on the diet.  

The study by researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, enrolled 65 people diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Study participants consumed a ketogenic diet for six months. They were instructed to consume two to three ketogenic meals per day consisting of one to two servings of low-carbohydrate proteins such as eggs, fish or meat alongside two to four tablespoons of fat, such as butter, oil, avocado, ghee, or heavy cream; and one to two cups of nonstarchy vegetables such as cucumbers, leafy greens or cauliflower. Snacks were allowed as long as participants followed the maximum daily carbohydrate allowance of 20 grams. Adherence to the diet was monitored by daily urine tests to measure ketones, a metabolite produced by the body when it is burning fats. A total of 83 percent of participants adhered to the diet for the full study period. 

Researchers found that not only did participants have less body fat after six months, they also had a decline in fatigue and depression scores. 

Participants completed tests and surveys prior to the start of the diet and again at three and six months while on the diet to measure level of disability and quality of life. On a quality-of-life survey, participants were asked questions such as “Did you have a lot of energy over recent weeks?” “Did you feel worn out?” “Have you been a happy person?” and “Have you felt downhearted and blue?” The survey provided a score for physical and mental health from zero to 100, with higher scores representing better physical and mental health. Participants had an average physical health score of 67 at the start of the study compared to an average score of 79 at the end. Participants had an average mental health score of 71 at the start of the study compared to an average score of 82 at the end. 

Scores also improved on a common MS disease progression test. On a scale of zero to 10, with a score of one representing no disability, two representing minimal disability, and three representing moderate disability but still able to walk, average participant score at the start of the study was 2.3 compared to 1.9 at the end. On a six-minute walking test, participants walked an average of 1,631 feet at the start of the study compared to 1,733 feet at the end.  

Researchers also took blood samples and found participants had improvements in the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. 

A limitation of the preliminary study was the lack of a control group of people with MS who consumed their regular, nonketogenic diet.

Other studies on diet have indicated that a diet low in saturated fat can be helpful for MS.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th annual meeting being held in person in Seattle.

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