Monday, March 21, 2005

More Evidence That Fitness Helps MS Patients – Healthy Diet Also Helps

I suggested in a previous post that MS patients should exercise. My brother clued me into an article in the March 17 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune that discusses how fitness helps MS patients. Eduard Gappmeier, who has been studying this issue for the last 14 years at the UofU says, “Exercise does not lead to a change in the MS, but a change in how patients can live with it.”

Having made myself a Guinea pig on fitness and MS for the past 17 years, I’m not sure I fully agree. I believe exercise can actually lead to a change in MS. I believe it certainly can change the progression of the disease, although, that is difficult to prove or disprove clinically.

I guess I’m picking at nits. The fact is that if you have MS, exercise and fitness can help you. It definitely can improve your quality of life. It might slow disease progression. It is less likely that it can reverse existing disease effects, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It seems to have worked that way for me to some degree.

While exercise is great, you can make it more effective through a healthy diet. Quackwatch says that the Therapeutic Claims Committee of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies (how’s that for a moniker?) has concluded that “no special diet … has been proven to alter its course.” Of course, I have difficulty trusting my health to bureaucratic organizations with long, official-sounding names. Besides, even if the committee is right and no diet conclusively improves MS, how can it be harmful to follow a healthy diet?

Over 40 years ago Dr. Roy Swank of the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center began studying the effects of diet on MS. After years of study he published the first edition of the Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, which was later revised and updated with new information. The book has some good suggestions. Some of them are probably too restrictive for the average person. One of the book reviewers on Amazon who has MS and follows the diet closely says, “This isn't a miracle cure for the masses because most people either won't believe it, won't try it or won't stick with it.”

Another Amazon reviewer says, “If following a diet could cure or control MS, there would not be sick people around.” That, of course, is not true. The fact that a treatment exists does not mean that people will use it. Our eating experience is emotional and cultural as well as physical. Its patterns are deeply ingrained in our psyches. Statistics tell us that most people decline to eat healthy despite the well-known benefits of doing so. The trade-off required simply isn’t worth it to them.

I tried following Dr. Swank’s diet for the better part of a decade. While I wasn’t suffering significant MS symptoms, my health wasn’t the best. I enjoyed improved health when I started following Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone diet. I believe I was getting too little protein under the Swank diet. After a couple of years of following the Zone, I implemented some principles from Bill Philips’ Body for Life. I eventually also implemented principles from Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. I have taken a blend of everything I have learned from these and other sources to develop the healthy eating plan that I follow today.

Here’s what I can tell you about following a healthy diet:

  • A significant improvement in health will require a significant improvement in diet.

  • For most people, eating a healthy diet requires a major mental shift.

  • Very healthy diets are expensive, take a lot of work, and are difficult to follow. Our society simply isn’t oriented to this type of eating.

  • Be careful of plans that totally exclude foods you like. Some have the willpower to stay away from a food forever, but this frequently leads to binge eating when you “blow it.”

  • The best thing you can do is to inform yourself. Information can help you make the choices that will be best for you.

  • Do it. Actually implement your knowledge. Do it for at least six weeks if you want to find out if it will work for you.

  • If your eating plan isn’t working for you, don’t throw the whole thing out. Go back through your information. Get more information if necessary. Make a few adjustments and try it again for a couple of weeks. Repeat as necessary. Eventually you will get to something that works well for you long term.
Most doctors that treat MS would like to see their patients exercise and eat a healthy diet. Few of them prescribe such activity because the bulk of medical research is focused on drug treatments (where the money is). This is not like the cardiology field. Doctors are exposed to very little information on treating MS with diet and exercise. That doesn’t mean that individuals should assume that it’s not helpful.

I’m not repudiating the medical industry. The industry does a fine job, but it’s often not the entire answer. I’m not advocating black magic, disproved treatment methods (see Quackwatch article), or anything potentially unhealthy. I’m simply suggesting that you take responsibility for your own health. Use the resources of our medical industry to fulfill that responsibility. But also use other valid resources. Find what works for you and use it. Nobody has a greater interest in your health than you.

No comments: