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The 'Best Bet Diet' for Multiple Sclerosis

Can eating certain foods cause multiple sclerosis?


Updated June 11, 2014

The “Best Bet Diet” is the work of Ashton Embry, PhD, who first wrote about the link between MS and nutrition in 1996. He is currently the president and research director of DIRECT-MS, a Canadian non-profit organization devoted to providing science-based information on the role of nutritional factors in MS and funding research around diet and MS (although the site seems to be almost entirely devoted to ideas around the Best Bet Diet itself).  

The Theory Behind The Best Bet Diet

The hypothesis behind the Best Bet Diet starts with the fairly established idea that MS is an autoimmune disease - more specifically, that our immune cells are attacking our myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding nerve structures in the brain and spinal cord. According to the authors and supporters of the Best Bet Diet, the whole autoimmune process is initiated in the gastrointestinal system in people experiencing “leaky gut syndrome.” In these people, the gut has become porous (perhaps due to low amounts of stomach acid) and undigested food protein can escape into the bloodstream.

The immune system sees these protein particles as invaders and creates antibodies against them. The theory continues that these food proteins are similar to the proteins in myelin (called "molecular mimicry") and the antibodies formed in response to the food proteins begin to attack the myelin. Of course, for that to happen, they need to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, which also must be compromised in some way in order for these immune cells to end up in the central nervous system.  

The Claims of The Best Bet Diet

I have searched pretty extensively and nowhere can I find the claim that the Best Bet Diet will “cure” MS. This doesn't surprise me, as I feel strongly that there is not a dietary cure for multiple sclerosis (nor is there yet a non-dietary cure for that matter). In several places I have seen that the Best Bet Diet will slow progression of disability and lower chances of premature death from MS. There is also the implication that relatives of people with MS could prevent getting MS themselves by following the Best Bet Diet, as there is a genetic component which increases risk for developing multiple sclerosis (although this is still pretty low).  

The Basics of The Best Bet Diet

There are two main components of the Best Bet Diet: 1) Avoiding potential “problem” foods, and 2) Taking vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements. Avoiding potential “problem” foods: The idea here is to avoid any foods with proteins that resemble those in myelin that are attacked by the immune system. These include:
  • Dairy: Avoid all animal milks. Also avoid all butters, cheeses, yogurt and any products that contain them.
  • Gluten: Avoid all wheat, rye and barley. Also avoid any products that contain them.
  • Legumes: Avoid all beans and peas. Also avoid peanuts. Soybeans and soy products are also no-nos.
  • Refined Sugar: This is also avoided because of general inflammatory properties, with the suggestion of using other sweeteners instead, such as honey, maple syrup and stevia.
  • Eggs: The idea here is to limit, rather than strictly cut out, eggs (unless you have an allergic reaction to them).
  • Yeast: Same idea as eggs - unless you are allergic, limited quantities are allowed.
Taking vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements:
  • Vitamin D3: The “headliner” in the Best Bet Diet is vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is recommended in quantities of 2000 IU/day in the summer and 4000 IU/day in the winter - however, it is strongly recommended that you get tested for 25(OH)D to determine what the appropriate levels are in your case.
  • Calcium: This is recommended at between 800 to 1,200 mg/day, and even higher if you are concerned about osteoporosis (a common problem in people with MS).
  • Magnesium: Should be taken in a calcium:magnesium ration between 2:1 to 1:1. Therefore, if you take 1,000 mg of calcium, you should take between 500 and 1,000 mg of magnesium a day.
  • Other Vitamins, Oils, Minerals and Antioxidants: Embry recommends omega-3 fish oil, vitamin A, vitamin B complex and vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, gingko biloba, grape seed extract, coenzyme Q10, acidophilus, lecithin and amino acids. For specific information on quantities, visit this page.

The Evidence Supporting the The Best Bet Diet

To date there has been no formal research published on the Best Bet Diet, although a “clinical trial” was undertaken in early 2006 by Dr. Jonathan O’Riordan, a neurologist in Scotland. You can see a detailed description of trial procedures in this PDF document. To my knowledge, results have not been published yet.  

Additional Information/Tips About The Best Bet Diet

T-Cells or B-Cells (or Both)?: There is currently a bit of an immunologic puzzle around what types of immune cells are attacking the myelin of people with MS. For a long time, it was thought that the “rogue cells” were T-cells, which do not produce antibodies (antibodies are made by B-cells), but attack on their own. This would “debunk” the leaky gut and MS connection behind the Best Bet Diet. However, now there are conflicting reports of the role played by anti-myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibodies and anti-myelin basic protein antibodies. Some studies have shown these to be implicated in MS, while others say that they play no role. Of course, there could be other antibodies at work that have not yet been discovered.

ELISA Test: Proponents of the diet recommend that people get an ELISA blood test done to identify which foods may have escaped across the “leaky gut,” the idea being that the immune system would have produced identifiable antibodies to these foods.

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