Multiple Sclerosis 101: The Importance of Taking Care of You
Unfortunately there is no switch that we can flip (yet) to get rid of our MS. We may be powerless to cure this disease that afflicts our central nervous system, but we can still take steps to improve symptoms and keep the rest of our body healthy. It’s important to keep fighting and to take care of ourselves the best that we can, despite our diagnosis. There is a lot of information out there on what we should be eating, how often we should be exercising, and what supplements we should and should not be taking. I’m not here today to tell you what to do, my goal is just to arm you with information you need to make the choice for yourselves.
Some disease risk factors such as our family history, our age, or our gender are uncontrollable. However, we can still focus our energy on dealing with our “modifiable risk factors”. These are the things we do have control over like our weight, alcohol intake, nicotine use, and how much we exercise. MS is enough of a problem, so it’s important to take measures to avoid other health issues like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and certain types of cancer. Lets talk a little bit more about these modifiable risk factors and how they relate to people living with MS:
Unfair as it may seem, having MS does not exempt us from getting other common medical problems like heart disease and cancer. MSers should be extra vigilant in protecting the parts of their body that are still fully functional. This means maintaining a healthy body weight and following a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats.
As of now no specific diet has been scientifically proven to cure MS or slow disease progression. MS specialists promote the same low fat, high fiber diet that is the standard recommendation for all adults. Any healthy diet will give you more energy and a healthier body, which sounds pretty good to me! By cleaning up your diet you could see a difference in your symptoms- but the only way to know for sure is to try it out for yourself! The bottom line is you have to choose the path that is right for you, and be sure to pick a plan that you can make part of your everyday life so that you are able to stick with it. If your path is the Whals protocol or the Paleo diet then great! If you keep it simple by upping your vegetable game and cutting down on junk food, then I applaud you!
The overall goal of exercising is to keep the rest of your body as healthy as possible. Exercise has been scientifically proven to reduce the impact of common MS symptoms like bowel and bladder dysfunction, fatigue, muscle weakness, and depression. Sounds pretty good right?
Much like with diet, you have to choose an exercise routine that will work for you, and that you can stick with. A lot of people with MS love workouts like yoga, tai chi, and pilates because they emphasize breathing, stretching, and balance. They also have the benefit of being adaptable for various types of disabilities. Other great activities include biking, swimming, therapeutic horseback riding, and floor exercises. The MS society is a great resource, and you can contact your local chapter to find classes in your area!
You can read my tips for staying cool while exercising here!
If you are considering taking any over the counter vitamins or supplements you should talk to your doctor first to make sure they are good for you, and to ensure that they will not interfere with any medications that you are taking. Recommendations for supplements sound be made by a provider on a case-by-case basis, but there are a couple of general facts to keep in mind:
- Myelin destruction in MS occurs as a result of an overzealous immune system, and many disease modifying drugs work by suppressing or modifying the immune response. Therefore, in general, anything that boosts your immune system is counter-productive.
- You can overdo it! It’s not that difficult to overdose yourself with vitamins, and this can result symptoms that mimic MS such as numbness, tingling, fatigue and headaches. So please, talk to your doctor first!
- Supplements are not as highly scrutinized as prescription drugs are. Manufacturers of supplements do not have to prove to the FDA that their products work, and as a result many have not been well researched. Keep this in mind, and exercise caution!
- Many of the vitamins and minerals available as supplements can also be obtained by simply eating a well rounded diet!
A lot of people with MS have low vitamin D levels, and studies have shown that there is a link between vitamin D and MS. To learn more you can read a full article about Vitamin D here.
Stress is a trigger for MS! Stress comes in many shapes and sizes from emotional and physical, to the stress put on the body by extremes in temperature. The overall lesson is to be aware of stress, and listen to your body. If you need to remove yourself from a situation in the interest of your health then do it whenever possible. Figure out what stresses you and work on a plan to decrease the stress in your life- then implement it! I know this is far easier said then done, but keep in mind that your health deserves to be the priority.
You wash your hands often and take basic precautions, but you still got sick! Oh no! If you take medications that suppress your immune system be sure to check in with your Primary Care Provider when you are sick. People with MS must also be aggressive in keeping their fever down, as elevations in body temperature can worsen MS symptoms. We are also at a increased risk for urinary tract infections, which may manifest as an unexplained worsening of MS symptoms. If you have a fever or don’t feel well touch base with your doctor ASAP!
I hope this has you thinking about what you can do to maximize your health. Remember, communicate with your provider and work as a team to reach your goals. I wish you the best of luck!