One of the hardest days of my life was when my son was misdiagnosed with what we were told was brain cancer. I cried tears of joy when I got the news that, in actuality, he had Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS is a disease that can affect the brain and spinal cord and cause a variety of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, mobility, speech and incontinence. With MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, possibly causing permanent damage. This damage causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body resulting in the symptoms that MS patients experience.
Fortunately for us, Canada is one of the most advanced countries in the world for the study and treatment of MS. That stands to reason because it is also the country with the highest prevalence of MS victims: 1 in every 400 people to be exact. Globally, there are over 2.8 million people affected.
Ongoing research is not only looking at treatments for the disease, but also into the connection between diet and MS. Research has proven that a diet high in saturated fats can increase inflammation in the body. According to an article in the US News and an interview done with Dr. E.J. Gettings, an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia, “there’s a growing body of research showing a link between certain foods and worsening MS symptoms.”
This is where the great milk debate begins. It is important to note that there is no scientific proof that dairy affects MS. Having said that, saturated fats are mainly found in animal products, including meats and dairy, and the countries with the largest consumption of these animal products also have the highest rates of MS instances.
According to Harvard Health, the existing science regarding dairy consumption is mixed. Some research warns against while other studies show benefits. In a recent review, Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and his co-author, David Ludwig, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard say that eating too much dairy may cause harm to our bodies.
The Overcoming MS program has recommended avoiding cow’s milk products despite the lack of conclusive evidence. The Overcoming MS (OMS) diet was developed by Dr. George Jelinek in 1999 following his own diagnosis with MS. He recommended a diet that advised cutting out dairy and meat, and eating less saturated fats.
According to Dr. Jelinek, ongoing research is being done regarding the effect of protein in cow’s milk. In this research it is found that some proteins in cow’s milk mimic part of myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG), the part of myelin thought to initiate the autoimmune reaction in MS. This can trick the immune system into initiating an attack on MOG and hence cause demyelination (destruction of the myelin sheath). Research into this diet, however, has not provided conclusive evidence of its benefits.
Others argue that following a Mediterranean diet is best. That is, eat vegetables, fruit, and fish every day and meats rarely. Dairy and eggs should be eaten in moderation. The key to this diet, and what many MS organizations promote, is a varied and healthy diet that will help reduce the number of relapses. The key is to ensure that you are getting the right amount of the different kinds of nutrients your body needs. A balanced diet, combined with exercise, will help you stay in your best health possible.
With all of the research and discussion out there, to milk or not to milk became the question in our household. In the end, we decided not to milk, simply because the nutrients found in milk can be found in other alternatives such as almond milk. The goal was, as mentioned before, to have as healthy and balanced diet as possible while still enjoying food.
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