A Holistic Approach to Multiple Sclerosis
One day you wake up with a tremor in your thigh. Then, it’s an annoying twitch in your eye. You notice it’s harder to pick up grocery bags. You begin to feel weak, even clumsy. Your doctor passes it off as stress or fatigue due to your challenging work schedule. You’re not convinced and you push for further testing. After ruling out other possibilities, you learn you are among the estimated 2.3 million people who have Multiple Sclerosis.
A disease of the nervous system, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) develops when an inflammatory process in the body attacks the delicate myelin sheaths that insulate nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This results in scarring (sclerosis) of the nerve tissue, ultimately, damaging and blocking nerve impulses that control muscle strength, sensation, coordination, and vision.
While the exact cause of MS is not known, experts agree that it’s characterized by an altered immune response. Environmental triggers, infections, and heredity may play a role. MS can affect young children and the elderly, but is most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40; it’s two times more likely in women.
Symptoms vary widely but often include:
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Weakness and loss of coordination
- Numbness or weakness in the extremities
- Electric-shock like sensation with certain head motions
- Significant changes in vision or complete loss of vision
Other symptoms can include slurred speech, muscle spasticity, paralysis, and problems such as loss of bladder control.
Working with a Holistic Physician
Managing MS is an ongoing and often lifelong process. Whether treated conventionally or holistically, it involves changes to lifestyle and health habits. The goal with holistic treatment is to go beyond addressing symptoms and strive to identify the underlying cause in order to restore optimal well-being for each patient.
A holistic doctor’s approach includes a physical exam, lab tests and a thorough medical history, including any significant infections or illness. It also addresses nutrient imbalances, food allergies/ sensitivities, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, weight management, stress, and exposure to toxins. Treatment may also include:
A Diet Rich in Antioxidants. Dietary intake of foods rich in the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E helps the body reduce oxidative stress, which is damaging to cells. These vitamins help slow the damage done to the nervous system.
Supporting Energy Levels with B-vitamins. People with MS tend to be deficient in B-vitamins, which support nerve structure and function. Vitamin B-12 is critical for shielding the nerves from the worst damage caused by free radicals, as well as for energy production.
Creating a Healthy Lifestyle. Includes eliminating smoking, reducing use of alcohol, managing stress, and creating opportunities to experience joy and renewal from life’s daily hustle.
Strengthening the Neuromuscular System. People with MS can, and should, exercise. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Chi Gong are excellent ways to strengthen the body and the neuromuscular pathways for movement, balance, and coordination. At any level of MS, exercise can be performed, whether with assistive devices, in a chair, or with the aid of a trainer or physical therapist.
Water Therapy for Pain and Stress. For swimmers and non-swimmers alike, getting in the water is great for MS. It reduces stress on the joints, muscle pain, mental stress, and fatigue. Epsom salt baths may also provide comfort. Another “water” therapy that may be considered is constitutional hydrotherapy. In general, hot baths, saunas, and whirlpools should be avoided unless otherwise recommended by your doctor
Homeopathic Remedies. Intricately individualized, homeopathic remedies are selected based on symptoms, severity of disease, lifestyle factors, a patient’s level of vitality, environmental toxin exposure, and a patient’s ability to comply with a treatment plan.
Detox. Because exposure to toxins in the environment can play a role in triggering MS, it’s important to follow a physician-guided detox plan. This can include modifying the home/work environment and limiting exposure to known toxins.
In partnership with a holistic physician, with commitment to a treatment plan and attentive, personalized attention to symptoms and underlying causes, people who have MS can live highly functional lives and even heal from MS.
Food for Thought. . .
“You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.”– Joyce Meyer
Sweet and tangy pineapple – who can resist its juicy, vibrant flavor? Not too many of us: pineapple often ranks as one of America’s most in-demand tropical fruits.
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) contains two important enzymes, pancreatin and bromelain, that help break up protein molecules for easier digestion and absorption. Besides being anti-inflammatory, these enzymes help reduce the level of circulating immune complexes (CICs). High levels of CICs occur in a number of autoimmune diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis. Rich in Vitamin C, pineapple also provides antioxidant protection and support for the immune system.
Pineapple season runs March through June, but some markets may have them available throughout the year. Look for one that has a sweet aroma at the stem end, is free of soft spots, bruises or darkened “eyes.” It’s also good to choose one that is heavy for its size. While larger pineapples yield more edible flesh, there’s usually no difference in quality between a large and small fruit. You often get more flavor in a hefty, smaller pineapple. Cut the fruit within two days of purchasing. Once cut, chilled pineapple retains its nutrients for up to a week. You can also freeze pineapple chunks for use in smoothies, fruit water, and ice pops.
Since cooking pineapple can destroy the enzyme action important for the body, it’s best to eat fresh, raw pineapple, or dried (dehydrated) pineapple without added sugar or sulfites. Another good option is frozen pineapple, no sugar added. Raw pineapple is ideal to use in dishes such as relish, fruit salads, dressings, smoothies, and yogurt. If you do choose to cook with pineapple, add small chunks or medium-size slices toward the end of the cooking process. Better yet, top warm food with chilled pineapple and enjoy!
When you want to add sweetness to an entree, put Pineapple Relish at the top of your list. It’s perfect with fish tacos, or to accompany any meat or vegan protein dish that’s got a lot of mojo for your tastebuds.
- 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
- 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh serrano chile, including seeds
- 1 tsp chopped thyme
- 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
Combine all ingredients and serve immediately. Store leftovers for up to three days.
The Power of Potassium for Muscle and Nerve Function
Potassium is a mineral that, once inside the body, operates as an electrolyte. Potassium ions carry a positive charge that the body uses for neural and muscular function. The average adult needs 4,700 mg of potassium daily compared to only 200 mg of sodium. Unfortunately, for most people, our eating habits fill us with too much sodium (3,300 mg a day) and not nearly enough potassium. This imbalance can cause muscle cramps, as well as problems with nerve transmission, hypertension, fluid balance and cellular function throughout the body.
Conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis are marked by changes in muscle tissue, including strength, tone, and resiliency, as well as the inability to generate strong nerve conduction. Too little (or too much) potassium in the blood has a significant impact on the strength of nerve impulses and muscle contraction for both the heart and skeletal muscle.
When your body is receiving enough potassium, blood pressure and fluid levels stay in optimal balance, providing protection against stroke, kidney stones, and more serious muscle or nervous system conditions.
Great sources of potassium include cooked beet greens, Portobello mushrooms, avocado, spinach, kale, salmon, bananas, and yams. Taking too much potassium can lead to kidney damage or even heart arrhythmia. You’ll want to consult with a holistic physician regarding the right dose for you.
Among the most nutritious of berries, Black Currants (Ribes nigrum) were once a forbidden fruit in the United States. Native to Europe and Asia, it was believed that the berries spread a fungus that killed pine trees. Fortunately, we know better today and have discovered the many health benefits of this herb. Important compounds and nutrients found in black currant include antioxidants, vitamin C and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
GLA is an unusual fatty acid that is not available in many other dietary sources. It works as an anti-inflammatory and has been used in managing several autoimmune disorders, as well as health conditions where inflammation plays a significant role. Because it’s an adaptogenic herb – meaning it helps support your adrenal system – it can work with your body to modulate the effects of stress.
For nutritional supplementation, black currant is available in tea blends, oil, pill and capsule form. When using black currant medicinally, it can take up to eight weeks to see changes.
Because it can impair blood clotting, produce soft stools and mild intestinal gas in some people, be sure to check with a holistic health provider before adding a black currant supplement to your health regimen.
Ah, The Health Benefits of a Good Stretch
You know you should do it, but in a rush, you often skip it: Stretching. It’s important to your health, regardless of how intensely you do – or do not – exercise Regular stretching helps increase muscle flexibility, which is one of the important factors of fitness. Muscles that are limber have better reaction times, help protect joints, support posture, and reduce stress and body aches.
Additional benefits of stretching include:
- Increased range of motion around the joint
- Enhanced blood flow circulation throughout the muscle
- Enhanced performance in physical activity (for work or play)
- Prevention of injury to muscles and joints, including the back
- Improved recovery time and reduced soreness after a workout
Styles of Stretching:
Static Stretching: Involves holding the body in a particular stretch position for 10-30 seconds. This is most beneficial after you exercise. You often do a lot of static stretches in a gentle yoga class.
Dynamic Stretching: Active movement that gently warms the muscles as they stretch, but you don’t hold the stretch. This is the type of movement done before exercise or sport. The movements might mimic those being done in an exercise routine, but at a slower and more deliberate pace. If you watch pro athletes before an event, you’ll see this type of stretching.
PNF – Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: Involves actively contracting and relaxing specific muscles in specific patterns. For example, a “hold-relax” pattern places the muscle in the stretched position for a few seconds and is followed by contracting the muscle without moving the joint. Other PNF patterns involve contraction, stretch and relaxation for different lengths of time and in differing order. PNF is commonly used by physical therapists, athletic trainers and athletes. It can be done with a partner’s assistance or on your own (possibly using props such as straps or blocks, as in a yoga class). The muscles that respond best to PNF are the ones we often overuse and/or neglect, making them most prone to injury: hamstrings, glutes (your squatting muscles in the butt), back, and shoulder muscles.
To learn more about the type of stretching that best addresses your needs, consult your physician and/or an experienced physical therapist or chiropractor. You might also consider working with a yoga teacher certified in Yoga for MS or an exercise specialist/trainer certified in water fitness or medical exercise.