Swank Diet and MS

Dr. Roy Swank, Professor of Neurology at University of Oregon Medical School, developed this diet after observing the outcome of a 5-year study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute. That study found that MS occurred only in populations that consumed saturated fats as a substantial part of their diet.

With the exception of coconut oil, saturated fats can be found in the highest concentrations in animal products such as meats, cheese, milk, butter, etc. In countries with minimal saturated fat consumption (Asia, Africa, Middle East, and most of South America), MS is a relatively rare occurrence.

North America, Western Europe and Argentina (where the economy is founded on the cattle industry) have considerably higher rates of MS than the rest of the world. The authors of the study reported that in Norway, where the population is genetically homogeneous, there was a curious but significant difference in the occurrence of MS, depending on where one lived. For the inland population, where the diet is focused on butter, cheese, milk, other dairy products and meat as a mainstay, MS was 8 times more prevalent than in populations along the coastal shoreline, where the diet was based on deep ocean fish that are high in unsaturated fats. The amount of saturated fat consumed appeared to match the incidence of MS.

Another study conducted shortly afterward discovered the low incidence of MS in Sicily and Southern Italy, where large amounts of unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil and fish are consumed on a daily basis. The relationship between unsaturated fat consumption and low MS rates was too compelling to ignore.

Dr. Swank developed his own study that spanned 35 years and tracked over 150 MS patients. Half of the participants followed the low-fat Swank diet outlined below. The other half continued to consume a standard western diet—one that was high in saturated fat and contained plenty of dairy products and meats. The results were almost unbelievable. During the first 3 years, an 80 percent reduction of MS exacerbations resulted in the low-fat diet participants. Only 5 percent of these patients suffered any deterioration after 35 years.

For those who faithfully followed the low fat diet (72 patients), only 31 percent had died after 35 years. In contrast, after 35 years, the patients who continued to consume a standard western high fat diet suffered a death rate of 80 percent. The difference here, even if age, severity of disease before participation in the study, and other confounding factors are taken into account, is astounding.

The Swank diet is more effective when started early on in the course of MS. Later stages and more severe illness do not respond as well.

The guidelines for the Swank diet include:

  • restrict saturated fats to less than 10 grams per day (3 tsp)
  • eat deep ocean fish 2 to 3 times a week
  • supplement cod liver oil (1 tsp) or flax seed oil (2 Tbs) daily
  • eliminate hydrogenated fats like margarine and vegetable shortenings (read labels on all processed foods)
  • eat normal amounts of protein from fish and soy, legumes etc.
  • eat fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • drink lots of water

Anti-inflammatory Diet: the Modified MacDougall Diet

This diet is named after Professor Roger MacDougall who cured his MS by following the guidelines below. MacDougall lived well into his 80's symptom-free.

  • no animal products (except cold-water fish several times a week)
  • eat fresh vegetables and fruits, root vegetables, small amounts of non-glutinous grains (millet, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, rice, corn), nut and seeds
  • drink lots of water
  • get lots of fresh air
  • absolutely no alcohol, sugar, processed foods, dairy or other animal fats, wheat or other glutinous grains

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015