So, if the best minds in MS are all saying this, why aren’t we doing it? Because it’s not our fault. Because they do not understand. Because they do not have to wake up every morning with the disease. Because they do not have to hide half of their symptoms so no one will really no how sick they are. Because people living with MS forget what is good for them in the moment, not because they don’t care, but because their brain won’t support them. MS stinks.
Well MS Cure Fund is working on tools that will try to make it stink less. The neurologists and everyone else are right. Your lifestyle choices can have a far greater effect on the course of your disease than any disease modifying therapy (DMT) can.
Back to basics – MS is an immune mediated disease that causes inflammatory attacks on the myelin that coats nerve axons. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. When the myelin is damaged, the electronic impulses that flow through the nerves are diminished or blocked.
So what can we do to reduce inflammation?
- Avoid stress – Stress makes your body feel like it is under attack. To fight the attack the body produces chemicals that narrow the arteries and increase heart rate to provide the energy to overcome the perceived attack. If you decrease circulation, you increase inflammation.
- Avoid extreme heat –Extreme heat causes a temporary failure of nerve conduction in the central tracts within the central nervous system causing exacerbation of MS symptoms; lowering the body temperature will allow nerve conduction to resume. This is like disconnecting and then reconnecting a computer. Reduce heat, feel better.
- Exercise – Exercise is good. Many MS patients have the wrong impression that if they exercise they will overheat and cause MS attacks. Not true. MS patients need to be mindful of overheating, but the benefits of aerobic exercise are too numerous to list. Exercise with plenty of water consumption increases circulation to get nutrients to the muscles and joints and decreases inflammation. It has also been shown to produce proteins in the brain that stimulate growth of new brain tissue. Who doesn’t want that? (Source: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html).
- Hydrate – Drinking water helps everything. It stimulates the metabolism; it carries away harmful toxins and provides support to all the body’s essential systems.
- Get plenty of rest – If you are overtired your body will identify that as stress and the cycle begins. MS fatigue and body fatigue are two different things. MS fatigue is a neurologic condition. Body fatigue is a lack of reparative rest. Sleep well, be well.
- Reduce Sodium – Sodium causes the circulatory system to narrow, causing the stress reactions stated above. Sodium is loaded into almost all processed foods at an obscene level. Sodium causes bad immune cells to be generated that can make an immune mediated disease like MS worse. If possible, eat fresh foods naturally low in sodium and lay off the salt.
- Don’t smoke – It pains me to think I have to add this. Smoking constricts blood flow; puts many harmful poisons in your body and kills lung function. Don’t smoke.
Sounds like what our primary care physicians have been saying from day one. It is, and it’s true. But why is it so much more important for people living with MS? Because reducing inflammation reduces MS attacks and their severity. It’s that simple.
More and more, MS research is pointing to “the gut”. The gut is your digestive track. Science is proving that all controls for your body’s immune system originate in your digestive track and how your body reacts to various foods and chemicals. There is a world of information out there on eating your way to a better healthy life. I want to stay clear of providing “medical advice”, so I won’t tell you what to do, other than talk with your primary care doctor or neurologist about making an appointment with a nutritionist. It could be the most life changing decision you make in the fight against your MS.
Written by: Jack Cowie
Medically reviewed by:
Patricia K. Coyle, MD
Professor of Neurology and Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs
Director, MS Comprehensive Care Center
Stonybrook University Hospital