Author: Connie Kiefluk
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a particularly difficult chronic progressive neurological disease. About 400,000 people in the US alone have the disease, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS is most often diagnosed between twenty and forty years of age, striking women about three times more often than men.i MS patients have recurrent attacks on their nervous system and gradually lose their ability to walk or to see. They are often confined to a wheelchair after ten to fifteen years and then to bed rest for the remainder of their lives.ii Mortality is increased fourfold compared with the general population in patients with advanced disability.iii
Multiple sclerosis causes a lack of coordination and control when the electrical signals carrying messages to and from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) pass through the peripheral nervous system. This is a result of the myelin (the insulating cover or sheath of the nerve fibers) being destroyed by an autoimmune reaction. As the electrical signals get short-circuited, they can destroy cells and burn patches of neighboring tissue, leaving little scars or bits of sclerotic tissue, which can ultimately destroy the body.iv
An outstanding pioneer in the research of the effect of diet on MS patients is Dr. Roy Swank. He worked in Norway and then at the Montreal Neurological Institute during the 1940s. In the summer of 1948, he was offered a five-year-long opportunity to investigate multiple sclerosis with adequate financing for his family (wife and two children), and three months travel to observe other researchers and their work. He was also given full financial support for his research through the Montreal Neurological Institute. Later, Dr. Swank headed the Division of Neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School.
He learned that MS is over one hundred times more prevalent in the far north than closer to the equator, which is very similar to the prevalence of other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.v Dr. Swank thought that diet, especially animal-based foods which are high in saturated fats, was responsible for the disease—contrary to the then-popular opinions that magnetic fields might be the culprit.
He recruited 144 MS patients from the Montreal Neurological Institute and conducted his best-known research trial in which he kept records on these patients for the next thirty-four years. He advised these patients to consume a diet low in saturated fat, most of whom did, but many of whom did not.vi He then classified the patients as either good dieters or poor dieters, based on their consumption of ±20 g/day of saturated fat.
Dr. Swank found that the progression of disease was greatly reduced by the low-saturated fat diet, even for those with initially advanced conditions. He summarized his work in 1990, concluding that for the sub-group of patients who began the low-saturated fat diet during the earlier stages of their disease, “about 95%...remained only mildly disabled for approximately thirty years.”vii Only 5% of these patients died, in contrast to the 80% of the patients with early-stage MS who consumed the “poor” diet (higher saturated fat) and died of MS.viii
In an interview with Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Swank said, “We found a heavy fat diet caused changes in circulation. After a meal typically eaten by Americans, red cells became very sticky and stuck to one another. About three hours after a meal they aggregated together to form clumps. And these clumps are large enough and tough enough so they can obstruct circulation in small capillaries, and that goes on throughout the body. We could see those changes in animals after feeding a high fat diet and also found a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier in these animals. I think this kind of injury results in the perivascular lesions that are typical of MS.”ix
Dr. Swank’s was an amazing study, given the fact that these people were followed for thirty-four years. His first results were published more than a half century ago, then again and again for the next forty years.x More recently, additional studies have confirmed and extended Swank’s observations and gradually have begun to place more emphasis on cow’s milk, showing that its consumption is strongly linked to MS both when comparing different countries and when comparing states within the US.
We would be wise to heed Dr. Swank’s words:
My fifty years of research and working with approximately 5000 people, just like you, have proven that this protocol works to slow progression of the disease as well as benefit overall health. After considerable research, I developed this plan for the treatment of multiple sclerosis that absolutely anyone can do. A lifestyle change will have to take place, which may be a challenge for you, but the challenges of living with a disability are much greater.xi
i T. Colin Campbell, PhD., The China Study First Edition (Dallas: First Benbella Books, 2005).
iii John A McDougall, MD, http://www.drmcdougall.com/about.html.
iv T. Colin Campbell, PhD., The China Study First Edition (Dallas: First Benbella Books, 2005).
ix The McDougall Newsletter (Nov/Dec 1998).
x T. Colin Campbell, PhD., The China Study First Edition (Dallas: First Benbella Books, 2005).
xi The Swank Diet (The Multiple Sclerosis Resource Center).