I researched the medications, but I found they scared me more than MS itself. I decided to use the diet alone.
— Kerry, on the Swank MS Diet since 2005

Kerry's Story

I've been on the diet since diagnosis which was February 17th 2005. I researched the medications, but I found they scared me more than MS itself. I decided to use the diet alone. My symptoms included L' Hermittes, numbness in my feet and legs and tingling in my fingertips. I also had burning in my left arm. Walking with a shopping cart on rough pavement was pure torture because the vibrations would travel up my arms and continue for up to 30 minutes afterward. I made sure I was strict upon starting the diet, counting my oils daily, taking my vitamins and cod liver oil and staying away from red meat along with all the other "no-no's". Within a few months I realized my symptoms were gone and I could even walk with a shopping cart in parking lots! Even the burning in my arm mostly disappeared. The only time it bothers me now is when I am stressed and/or tired. To date I haven’t even had any new symptoms.

I started out with a neurologist who I wasn't fond of so I switched to another. I liked her, but sadly she doesn't practice anymore. These days I just have my GP and if needed I will find another neurologist in the future. I wish I could have had Dr. Swank as my neurologist as he was obviously ahead of his time. I would have at least liked to meet him. Along with my mom, he is my hero.

It’s easier to just cook myself and I have A LOT more choices!

Now 8 years later I am still on the diet. Once a week I may indulge in a burger or some pork which is allowed after the one year mark. Mostly I cook at home (ALWAYS healthy meals). That way I am never bored because there are so many delicious AND legal recipes that I can prepare. I find it more of a chore to order take-out because there are so many things I have to ask them to leave out. It's easier to just cook myself and I have A LOT more choices! Not too long ago a friend of ours came over though and ordered a pizza from a certain chain restaurant. I was starving so I just ordered a half with just sauce. The next day I felt AWFUL and my arm began burning. I read on their website they use hydrogenated oils for the dough! NEVER AGAIN! It's really not worth it. You can make a MUCH better pizza by yourself or at least order from a local pizzeria with just the sauce and know it's just fresh dough and homemade marinara sauce.

I love the Swank board. I post my recipes there for other people to use and enjoy as well as to communicate with others. When I first started the diet I used the board a lot for support and met some really wonderful people who I still talk to outside of the board. These days I find people asking me for support and find myself helping THEM. It's amazing really. It's like I'm paying it forward.

- Kerry

My Father and Me

Life with MS in the family

My name is Pascale, I’m 37 years old.
MS has always played a major role in my life.

My father was diagnosed with MS at 33, and then his world collapsed. It was 1975, and there wasn’t any form of medical treatment for this. Doctors gave him few prospects: he would end up in a wheelchair soon. And they were right, unfortunately. My earliest memories of my father are those of a walk in the country. About a year later, when I was about 4, it was already very difficult for him to walk a mile. Soon he had to give up his job. My mother was working full-time, so he took care of me most of the time. After a few years, we took care of each other.

His MS must have been very aggressive. Every year he did a bit worse. He did search for a treatment outside the traditional health care, even started a diet by a German doctor, Evers. It was a very restrictive diet and he had to give up a lot. But it didn’t work for him – maybe it was too late already and after a year (feeling worse than before) he quit the diet.

Eventually my father ended up in bed, almost completely paralised now. My mother took care of him day after day, year after year, until she broke down and both had to be hospitalized. After only a few days he got very severe bedsores and his condition worsened. He was even contaminated with MRSA, a virulent staph infection. Six months later my father died; at night, alone in his room, far from home. It was a terrible experience. My mother and I were shocked. But maybe he was happier now. He looked so peaceful, it was as if he had a smile on his face. His battle had been fought, after 26 years. We tried to draw some comfort out of that thought.

Exactly 5 years later, in March 2006, I was having trouble with my feet. They were feeling numb, a result of my sedentary way of living, I thought. So I decided to start running. After the first trial, which went very well, the numbness got worse; it mounted up to my knees. A doctor friend of mine, advised me to consult a neurologist, which I did. He asked me a few questions (are there any diseases in your family, etc.) and took some tests. Then he told me, without showing any emotion, that it was probably MS. I was shocked, didn’t believe him. He sort of “comforted” me by telling me there were medications to treat MS but immediately added that recently, in the US, a few people had died after the treatment! He predicted that in a few months or a few years time, I would be having difficulties to walk and I would have to give up my work. I was 34!

I left his office, drove home. In fact I don’t know how I did get back home. I was devastated, but at the time very angry about the way I had been treated. That night was the most horrific night of my life. I felt numbness all over: in my legs, my arms, my head, my tongue. I thought I had a terrible disease and I was going to die. But still I didn’t believe it could be MS. Not MS. Not me!

The next morning my husband took me to the university hospital. People were very kind there, put me at ease, and arrangements were made for an MRI and a spinal tap. After I heard the verdict, what had seemed so unrealistic to me all that time did came true: I had MS. I broke down again. The only image I could think of was that of my father, lying helplessly in his bed, lacking any quality of life. I looked at my little daughter and my husband and felt so guilty for them. She would grow up without a “normal” mother. It was all coming back to me, the story was repeating itself. My father had about the same age when he got his verdict; My daughter was 3 then, just as I had been.

The first days after the diagnoses were a mess. Family members came to visit me, all crying and not knowing how to behave properly. I guess they thought that soon I would be unable to walk.

The basic principles of the diet looked very logical to me, so I decided to go for it.

After a week or so, my emotions began to change. I became determined to fight back - there had to be a way to counter this disease. MS had ruined my father’s life, eventually took him away from us. I would not let that evil beast do the same to my family.

I’ve always believed that food had an influence on MS. So I began to search the internet. Very soon I found the website of the Swank Foundation. The basic principles of the diet looked very logical to me, so I decided to go for it. I had decided meanwhile to start the meds; I got my first Avonex shot in July, 2 months after my diagnoses. I was so afraid that I decided to go for all options, to use all possible means.

For the second time, the number of lesions has diminished. I hardly feel any symptoms anymore.

One year later, in 2007, I had a second MRI examination. It was positive: apparently two lesions had disappeared. The numbness in my legs was almost gone, only flaring up in times of stress or fatigue. I did have two exacerbations from 2006 to 2008, manifest as optic neuritis. Each time I knew I was overdoing it, so it really didn’t come as a surprise.

Recently, 3 years after my diagnosis, I had a new MRI in order to follow up the evolution of my disease. No new lesions were found. The five old lesions in my brain are still there. But the four lesions in my spinal cord are gone! The myelin has been repaired. For the second time, the number of lesions has diminished. Moreover, I haven’t ANY lesions in my spinal cord anymore. And it has to be true: I hardly feel any symptoms anymore.

For me, this proves the diet really works. Of course I am also having medication, but the interferon doesn’t have any effect on the recovery of the myelin. So it must be the diet.

This is the reason why I really want to spread the word. People with MS all over the world should be informed about the Swank diet. I am so grateful to Dr. Swank. I feel he really saved my life, saved my family’s happiness. I’m not desperate anymore, I can have hope for a nice future, I know I am allowed to keep on dreaming…

If only my father had known this. I believe he’s up there, looking down on me and approving what I’m doing, being comforted by the fact that, although he lost, I may win this battle. If this is the case, I will win it for us both.

- Pascale is a Swank community participant since 2006, and currenly lives in Belgium.

How Dr. Swank's Work Saved My Life

April 17, 1989 was one of the darkest, life altering days of my 32 years on the planet. Two years after achieving my goal of stopping a 17- year smoking habit and adopting a rigorous physical fitness regimen, I truly felt on top of the world. Nothing could stop me. I'd just begun life as a student again at a local community college with my new found level of confidence in tow. Those successes empowered me to continue striving and believing in myself (something that had never come easily for me). This was a new era for Donna. Little did I know, at that time, that the confidence that had grown within me was about to be sorely tested.

As the number one aid to curbing the withdrawal cravings, I began working out in a "real gym" with seriously strong, fit people around me. One of them, a Marine drill instructor and "Mr. World" contender, became my personal coach. He took a personal interest in my goals. Each day, he would encourage, as well as educate, me in this, his arena just a bit further. It made the experience fun and I began to feel guilty if I didn't go to the gym that day. A new addiction had been spawned.

I’d never felt better in my entire life. What a revelation!

Fast forward three years of daily trips to the gym. Pushing beyond previous levels routinely, I spent almost three hours per day in that environment. I also received many new ideas as to making dietary changes and did so gladly. I'd never felt better in my entire life. What a revelation! The dietary changes came easily to me. Living in California at the time, fresh produce was not only abundant, but available year round. This prepared me for the changes to come after my diagnosis.

One morning upon waking, I was shocked to find that my left leg collapsed under me. It felt heavy and would not support my weight. I erroneously passed it off as something like a pinched nerve. My doctor couldn't find any reason for it, so it was "watch and wait." I dragged that leg around for more than 6 weeks. Continuing to work out as I had been, never missing a day the entire time, I was unknowingly worsening my condition daily. Almost as soon as that symptom began to wane, a new symptom of tingling on the right side of my body began. More doctor visits and tests were ordered, but nothing was determined.

Again, I had roughly 6 weeks of very odd sensations on one side of my body that couldn't be explained. Additional tests followed. I continued to believe it was harmless. How could anything bad be happening to me now? I was certainly on a high of optimism. So much so that I ignored all the signs that my body was giving me and continued on in the gym. Nothing was going to stop me!

When the fourth symptom, very fuzzy eyesight in one eye, occurred, I was sent to an eye doctor. He diagnosed "optic neuritis" and suggested that I see a neurologist ASAP.

My family doctor scheduled an appointment with a neurologist in Phoenix, Arizona at a well-known neurological institute. He warned me ahead of time that the physician that he was referring me to did not have a "good bedside manner." He'd been told this by many, but this doctor was very proficient in his field. Hmmm... I soon learned what he meant, and he wasn't overstating it at all.

How can one hour, one day, change a person's life so dramatically? The MRI was performed and the follow-up went something like this. "This shows that you have multiple sclerosis. You have in the top third of the worst cases we've ever seen here. You have a few good years left." Talk about devastating! The fact that I had four exacerbations (new word for my dictionary) within a 5- month time frame further impacted a dismal prognosis. He delivered this news with much the same compassion and sensitivity as one would state the weather report for the day. Is this the way of one, whom we entrust with our care?

My mother had died of systemic Lupus at the age of 33. Here I was, at 32 years, thinking, "I guess . . . this is it. "When asked if there were any possible dietary modality's, an emphatic, "No" was given. I was told that they'd just treat exacerbations with high-doses of steroids, given in the hospital. I wanted nothing to do with hospitals, or doctors, ever again, having watched my mother go through her agonizing decline.

It’s never been something I looked at as a diet. It’s a lifestyle, one that I enthusiastically embraced. My lifeline had been found!

Fortunately, within a short amount of time, information came to me of a Dr. Roy Swank, Md., Ph.D., head professor of neurology at Oregon Health Sciences University. I learned that he'd studied M.S. since 1946 and, based on his scientific findings, treated M.S. in an entirely different way through diet (According to the "expert," this couldn't be done). His track record and credentials were impeccable. I was truly fortunate that he was, indeed, still practicing in his 70's. I saw him for the remaining ten years of his practice. Yes, I traveled to see him, but at the point of desperation I was, I'd have gone to Indonesia if need be.

His success at controlling the progress of the disease through dietary measures was remarkable. I had to do this. I studied the program intensely, because my very life depended on it. I eliminated almost all saturated fats and trans-fats and added lots of clean, whole, unaltered foods. It's never been something I looked at as a diet. It's a lifestyle, one that I enthusiastically embraced. My lifeline had been found!

As broken spirited and emotionally shattered as I was when first I met him, Dr. Swank's words to me were the most healing balm for the soul there could have been. "f you do as I say, Donna, you can live a normal life." With those words, he gave me back my life.

We spent a great deal of time together in that first appointment. I also spent time with Barbara Dugan, his nurse and dietary guide, to answer all of my questions. Part of her job was to monitor the patients' diets and to steer them through the learning curve. As time passed in that first year, I not only regained all the functions that I'd lost, but felt increasingly better. I had become much more proficient at the diet.

It's been 18 years now. I need no aids or devices of any kind. I do take the daily rest breaks that Doctor Swank strongly advocated, and am grateful for each day of health that I enjoy. I volunteer at a local hospital and manage a home, cooking healthful and tasty meals for my very supportive husband and myself. I consider that a success story. As my way of giving back, I volunteer for the Swank Foundation in being a mentor, via e-mail, to the people who find their way to the Swank program, or those who simply need a friendly ear, comfort or consolation.

To Dr. McDougall, a heartfelt "Thank you!" for your dedicated efforts to continue the work of Dr. Roy Laver Swank. The legend lives on because of you. I've since adopted the McDougall plan, as another layer to health restoration/preservation. To quote Hippocrates, the father of medicine, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." Isn't that appropriate? That is certainly the message in your work.

Without leaders like Dr. Swank and Dr. McDougall, who are reminding the establishment of their duty, we would all be in dire circumstances. Wouldn't we?

Donna is one of our most enthusiastic long-time Swankers, and is one of our wonderful volunteer mentors.

Audrey Rossetti

I began the Swank Diet shortly after I was diagnosed with RRMS in early 2004. I had what we now think was Optic Neuritis a couple of years prior to that, which had cleared up, and then a Grand Mal Seizure in my sleep in 2003.  This led me to the emergency room, where no cause was determined (other than sleep exhaustion), but they did find that I was pregnant with my second child.  During this pregnancy, I was tested as much as was safe for various things, but it was not until I had my son, that the real tests could be performed.  When my son was 3 months old, I was diagnosed with MS and was devastated.

I was told to go on one of the approved shots, and handed some pamphlets and sent on my way.  I never felt so alone, but my 3 month old laughed as I held him, and I was determined not to let this get the best of me.  I began researching MS, therapies, diets and communicating with others on the Swank Website.  I ordered the book and read about the research that Dr. Swank had done.  It all made sense.  Our cells are fueled by what we eat, and even recent research has shown the Vitamin D link, which he recognized years ago with the Cod Liver Oil supplement in his diet.

When I increased my fruit and veggie intake and followed the Swank guidelines, I began to get my energy back.

It took a bit of planning and turning my back on some old favorites, but very quickly, I was reading labels and limiting various foods.  It surprised me that I also stopped craving them after a bit.  I did choose to add a whole fruit and veggie supplement to the diet, in order to get extra servings of organic fruit and vegetables each day.  When I increased my fruit and veggie intake and followed the Swank guidelines, I began to get my energy back, (you see,  I had a relapse after my son was born causing extreme fatigue and tingling/numbness).  I was feeling not only like my old self, but like the me that I had always wanted to be.  I began losing weight, a pound or two every couple of days.  I quickly lost all of baby weight gain, and then surpassed that and got down to the weight I was before my first pregnancy 5 years prior.  I was not trying to lose weight, it was just happening.  I eventually returned to my High School weight, gave away many of my clothes and had to replace them.  

I have to say that I felt the best during this time, that I have ever felt in my life.  I had no symptoms of MS, and no relapses for almost 4 years.  I stayed pretty strict on the diet for 2 years or so, and then I felt so normal, that I began to fudge a bit here and there.  I still watched labels, and avoided saturated fats, but I stopped being as diligent, stopped eating as many fruits and veggies, and allowing other things to creep in a bit more.  

Looking back, it should not surprise me that I had a serious relapse.  I had stopped the Cod Liver Oil and was slipping on the diet.  I caught a virus from my kids, and the tingling in my left hand from that relapse never left.  This may have happened anyway because the virus had flared it up, but it did not help my immune system, that I had relaxed on my healthy eating. This scared me, so I went to find a new Neurologist.  I did manage to get in to one of the best in my area, and she was much more compassionate.  I began on Copaxone during a relapse that was causing the back of my neck and side of my neck to feel numb.

I stayed on Copaxone for 2 years with a few more relapses and bouts of fatigue and dizziness, and then it was determined that it was not working because along with my symptoms, I had 3 new lesions.  Prior to this there had been no change to my MRI since my initial diagnosis.  I was switched to Betaseron.  I have had terrible bouts with old and new symptoms appearing, fatigue, fevers, fuzzy headed faint feelings and headaches.  I am told that due to the flu like fever the medicine causes, it can flair up MS symptoms, but that it does not mean that the MS is active.  2 of my lesions have gotten smaller since on the Betaseron, but I do not feel at all right.

I feel supporting my immune system with diet, exercise, even a seasonal therapy light, and plenty of rest with a positive attitude are my frontline defense.

So, I have determined that food is my greatest aid in this.  I have continued to follow many of the Swank guidelines, but I need to really get back on the diet.  I am making some small changes that my neurologist approved, like increasing my vitamin D, eating bananas and carrots every day, juicing...I have a great banana smoothie recipe that uses spinach and tastes great!  I am lucky to have a Neurologist that supports natural remedies like diet, nutrition, exercise and rest as the best option for treating various MS symptoms before drugs.  She does however, like almost all MS specialist's strongly recommend the use of the approved drugs as a frontline defense, and then supports whatever helps beyond that.  I prefer to think of it as the opposite.  I feel supporting my immune system with diet, exercise, even a seasonal therapy light, and plenty of rest with a positive attitude are my frontline defense.  The drug therapy is my back- up.

Anyway, I am slowly seeing improvement over even the symptoms that my meds are causing.  I have also been able to stop taking my meds for my acid reflux that was keeping me up at night.  I know this is due to the healthy eating.  I am fortunate that most of my symptoms are not visible to others.  I have fatigue at times, numbness and tingling that comes and goes, and by far the worse is that my eyes do not want to work together often times especially in large areas or long distance viewing.  I feel off balance, sometimes faint and my ear on one side has bouts of feeling full of fluid when it isn't.  I am grateful though, to be able to walk with balance and speed, even though I don't always feel balanced inside my head.  I have not lost any functions.

One thing we do know, is that the brain has a great capacity to heal itself when inflammation can be reduced.  The trick is keeping the inflammation from happening, and not only do certain foods and exercise do this, but eating antioxidant rich foods can prevent viruses and illness that cause many of our relapses.  I wish I had remained diligent with the Swank diet.  After 7 years of being diagnosed with this disease, it is the only therapy that provided serious results with no negative side effects and some unexpected pleasant ones instead.  This diet also follows basic guidelines for cancer prevention and heart disease prevention, so it is good for the whole family : o )

-Audrey Rossetti