Imagine one morning you woke up dizzy and unable to drag yourself out of bed. After the initial shock and panic, how would you feel being incapable of carrying out your daily responsibilities, even those as basic as brushing your teeth or bathing? Before you know it, days like this become your norm and your doctors are as perplexed about your condition as you are.
This scene is typical for those with multiple sclerosis before being diagnosed and yet continues even after the mystery is solved.
What is MS? Many may remember the favorite Disneyland’s Mouseketeer Annette Funicello who was diagnosed with MS and Jack Osbourne who was diagnosed at only 26 years old.
MS is an electrical disorder in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack the myelin sheaths. The purpose of this fatty nerve covering is to increase the speed at which impulses travel between neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Thus, without myelin, messages of the nervous system are slowed or even blocked. MS can be progressive or have periods of remission.
Who’s at risk?
MS can be considered a Western world disease because it is common in the US and Europe, but is rarely seen in the Eastern world. Most at risk are women between the ages of 18-45. Risk is heightened in smokers, those with chronically low vitamin D levels and those with MS in first-degree relatives.
It is important to note that there is no quick fix for MS. However, long-term diet and lifestyle management has been shown to slow, or even potentially cease, the progression of the disease over the course of life with MS.
Diet Suggestions for those with MS:
Take care of your gut: gut health can be tied to many autoimmune disorders, including MS. Balancing intestinal flora contributes to overall wellbeing, but may also improve MS symptoms. Consuming gut-friendly foods, like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, promote beneficial gut bacteria, whereas refined sugars and starchy foods feed unfavorable bacteria
Lower the insulin response in your diet by decreasing starchy and processed carbs. When insulin levels are low, so is the occurrence of food sensitivities and inflammation in the body. Exercise also lowers insulin resistance by 40% during the 24 hours after your workout. Gentle exercise, like swimming, yoga, and stretching, is key to reaping the benefits of exercise while avoiding over-heating.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet, which is plentiful in nutrients that counter the inflammatory state of MS, such as healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin D.
Healthy Fats: Unhealthy fats, found in processed and fried foods can increase the production of prostaglandin 2, thus worsening inflammation and MS symptoms. In this state of inflammation, healthy, anti-inflammatory omega 3 and monounsaturated fats can be depleted, making it essential to emphasize foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, and wild-caught fish.
Vitamin D: Distance from the equator correlates with the prevalence of MS cases, pointing to deficiency as a precursor to the disease. Attention to vitamin D in the diet is crucial because not only are those with MS often deficient, but they have a greater need for the immune support that this micronutrient provides. Apart from sun exposure, abundant sources of vitamin D are fatty fish and cod liver oil.
Avoid Stimulants since they can also stimulate the autoimmune response. These include coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and chocolate
Possible Helpful Supplements: CoQ10 strengthens the immune system and improves circulation. Ginger and turmeric have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
When it comes to multiple sclerosis, there are still more questions than answers. While medication treats the immediate symptoms of MS, it also comes with an array of side effects. On the other hand, although following the above guidelines will not deliver instant relief, they may lead to alleviating some symptoms. Complementing conventional treatment with a healthy diet and lifestyle may be helpful towards sustained wellbeing in a life with MS.
This blog was co-written by Susan Dopart and RD Intern Kristen Procter