Dr. Roy Swank authored some of the original work on dietary fat and MS. In 1948, he started treating people with MS with a low saturated fat, high polyunsaturated fatty acid diet. His diet was very strict, decreasing saturated fat intake to 15 grams per day. Red meat is completely prohibited for the first 12 months, and after that only three ounces are allowed per week. Processed foods that contain saturated fats and high-fat dairy products are not permitted. A large amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids are recommended, which is achieved in part through frequently eating fish and taking cod liver oil supplements. Dr. Swank also recommended taking a multivitamin.
The results reported by Dr. Swank were impressive. He published on his longitudinal study three times over the course of the 50 years. The study began with 144 participants with MS. Those on the Swank diet reportedly had less frequent and less severe attacks, reduced overall impairment, and decreased death rate. Better outcomes in his studies were associated with earlier treatment. Dr. Swank reported a 95 percent decrease in frequency of attacks. Later publications included a much smaller subgroup of the original 144, and lacked documentation of the results of standard neurological tests.
Dr. Swank’s clinical trial lacks many of the standard criteria that are now expected in clinical trials. Specifically, it was not randomized, blinded, or placebo-controlled.
The Swank diet is very strict. It is important that people who follow the diet ensure adequate protein intake, due to decreased meat consumption.
Dr. Swank and Barbara Dugan co-authored The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book. This book has more information, about the diet, the clinical trial, and recipes that conform to the diet.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.