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I tried to diet my way out of MS. This is what I learned

Juicing: not a wonder-drug

“Whatever you do, make sure you don’t go on any silly diets.” It was just about the first advice I was given by my neurologist, about 10 minutes after he’d confirmed that I had multiple sclerosis. It was the last thing I intended to do – unless it was a solid diet of pizza and chocolate, which I had been steadfastly adhering to ­during the misery of the diagnostic process. 

It can be difficult to diagnose MS, not least because symptoms vary so greatly in patients. The condition arises when your body’s immune system mistakes myelin, the protective sheath around your nerve fibres, for a foreign invader and attacks it, stripping the sheath, damaging the nerve and leaving scars or lesions. This interrupts the nerve’s signal to the spine and brain, and leads to disability. It can affect anything in the central nervous system, so symptoms range from balance issues to spasms to vision problems.

Getting a diagnosis 

My symptoms began as pins and needles in one foot, which extended to balance problems and lack of feeling in both feet, and it took two MRI scans of my head and spine, a lumbar puncture and a session where I wore electrodes on my head to see how fast my brain was responding to messages. 

In a way, a diagnosis was a relief – I could finally take action. My nurse talked me through the different kind of disease-modifying medication available, and touched on the importance of exercise and easing stress. But diet was a grey area: I was told to stay healthy, drink lots of water, etc, but that was about it.

Still, I was curious. Could something I ate – or avoided – help to reduce my relapse rate and prolong my life? Could I have even brought on the autoimmune condition because of my diet? Many people were quick to recommend books and regimes that had worked for friends or relatives. Even my mum rang one day full of excitement, after hearing of someone who had “cured himself” through diet and lifestyle. 

Conflicting theories 

The prevalence of “modern” autoimmune diseases such as MS is often attributed to diet and lifestyle, with different schools of thought on treatment – cutting out “acidic” foods such as dairy and meat, or “inflammatory” foods including gluten and nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. A depletion of good gut bacteria is theoretically linked to a variety of serious illnesses. 

At best, the amount of information is overwhelming. But doctors are often divided on where the line between medical fact and marketing fiction begins. I considered myself relatively well informed, but the more I researched, the more in the dark I felt. 

It goes without saying that any healthy diet is likely to improve energy levels and our ability to fight infection. Doctors often advise their patients that if it doesn’t hurt, it just might help, if only for the placebo effect. The MS Society advises a balanced diet and to manage weight problems, as well as listing several special diets developed specifically for MS, with the caveat that “there isn’t any conclusive evidence to suggest that they are effective”.

Utter confusion

Five years on from my diagnosis, I can attest to the fact that I am not following any of those regimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried – I’ve drunk kale shakes and gone through sugar withdrawal. I’ve spiralised with the best of them. It goes without saying that many of the diets are restrictive, and the idea of cutting out major food groups makes me miserable. But the main reason I haven’t followed a diet is utter confusion – if I were to take the advice of all of them, I would be surviving on fresh air. 

It’s understandable why so many would hang their hat on a diet. It sounds like a great way to control an illness. As with cancer, where chemo can feel far worse than a surreptitious tumour, with MS the treatment can sometimes feel worse than the condition itself. When first diagnosed, I tried different types of injectable drugs to help prevent relapses – one made me feel like I was floored with the flu every other day, another hurt like hell and left me with nasty blotches and bruises. I am now lucky enough to take just two pills a day, which help to dampen inflammation without wiping out my immune system and the worst I can expect is a menopause-like flush at inopportune moments.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by INEWS
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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