Can Certain Foods Trigger MS Symptoms?

A man mixing a bowl in his kitchen for meal prep, while a stack of food containers are piled behind him.

There is no one way to eat that is going to rid everyone of their MS symptoms. However, many people in the MS community have found that there is a direct link between what they eat and their MS symptoms. While every person with MS likely has a different list of foods they avoid, there is a lot of overlap in terms of the worst offenders.

To start a discussion about which foods make MS worse, we reached out to community members on our Facebook page and asked them to tell us: “Do certain foods trigger your MS symptoms?”

Nearly 150 community members responded, and here is what was said.

Cutting out sugar, dairy and gluten to help MS symptoms

Many in the community shared that they gave up the trifecta: sugar, diary, and gluten. These 3 are the biggest culprits when it comes to inflammation. Whenever the body is exposed to harmful stimuli – such as foods that are hard to process – the reaction is inflammation. This shows up as swelling as plasma moves to attack the foreign substances. Many people find that writing down what they eat helps them see the connection between these foods and a worsening of symptoms.

“I have fairly recently switched to dairy-free/gluten-free, and I avoid sugar. It was amazing to realize how much better I feel when eating this way.”

“Gluten, dairy, and refined sugar are all triggers.”

“I eat gluten-free, plant-based, whole food. No dairy, no meat, nothing processed. I stay away from sugar as much as possible. This sounds extreme, but I feel much better when eating this way. Totally worth it to me.”

“Gluten, dairy, and refined sugars are out of my diet, as they are inflammatory foods. Will see if I have relapses or not over the course of a year and compare to the previous year of eating what I wanted. Seeing if it makes a difference. I am 4 months in with no cheats and no new relapses.”

Giving up alcohol to reduce MS symptoms

Alcohol affects the central nervous system, which handles our balance and coordination. Anyone with MS already likely has problems with balance and coordination, so drinking a substance that further impairs these things may not be a good idea.

“Alcohol was a trigger for me, and I did not realize it until I stopped consuming it. Alcohol would leave me in a fog that would last several days. It was not something I needed, so I will happily add drinking to my ‘Do Not’ list.”

“I also stopped drinking 8 years ago because it caused flare-ups.”

Avoiding MSG as much as possible with MS

For people with perfectly healthy immune systems, MSG is OK in small doses. However, for someone with MS, this chemical is more likely to have consequences. MSG is proven to affect neurons, the cells that are responsible for communication with other cells. Because of these effects, this is definitely a substance worth tracking in a food diary.

The connection between meat and MS symptoms

Many in the community shared that red meats in particular – not chicken or turkey – made their symptoms worse. In most diets designed to let the body heal from disease, red meat is often avoided.

“Meat and dairy! Especially red meats and pork. Though I have always loved meat, vegan has been the way to go.”

Avoiding other sweeteners besides sugar with MS

Chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame and Splenda, can cause migraines and headaches. They are also thought to make MS symptoms worse. Given that these are chemicals made in a lab and their effects have not fully been tested, they might be worth avoiding. Honey, agave, or coconut sugar might be alternative options that are easier on your body.

“High fructose corn syrup. Soda especially. Hubby swears that Splenda is to blame for my first flare and resulting diagnosis.”

“Aspartame in diet drinks and gum.”

“Aspartame is a huge no-no. It makes my bladder issues a million times worse.”

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences for this story. We appreciate everyone’s input and willingness to be honest.

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