Navigating dietary advice for multiple sclerosis

Health Expect. 2021 Apr 10. doi: 10.1111/hex.13226. Online ahead of print.


Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory demyelinating disease with no known cure. Numerous diets are promoted to reduce symptoms or even cure MS, despite insufficient evidence for any therapeutic diet. There are few qualitative studies exploring the experiences of people with MS in relation to diet, and no use of theory to explain the findings.

Purpose: To explore the experiences of adults with MS when navigating dietary advice, their attitudes when making dietary decisions, and their needs regarding dietary resources and education.

Methods: In this qualitative study, we conducted six focus groups with people with MS (n = 33 plus one spouse without MS). Groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Primary analysis used a general inductive approach with thematic analysis. Secondary analysis aligned themes with the constructs of the self-determination theory.

Results: Six themes emerged: (a) confusion about where to seek dietary advice; (b) scepticism towards national dietary guidelines; (c) personalized approaches to dietary change; (d) barriers to dietary changes; (e) judging if dietary changes work; and (f) wanting dietary guidelines for MS.

Conclusion: People with MS are highly motivated to make dietary changes and improve their health. The self-determination theory explained why people with MS make dietary modifications, and the varying levels of motivation. MS-specific dietary resources and nutrition education need to incorporate ways to increase autonomous forms of motivation. Future dietary intervention studies could use the self-determination theory as a framework to improve long-term adherence to healthier diets.

Keywords: autonomy; diet; dietary modifications; focus groups; motivation; multiple sclerosis; qualitative; self-determination theory.