What is important to realize about Multiple Sclerosis is that your not going to fix it with just medication. Medication is important and can help a lot but it takes more than that to achieve a happy life. In my experience, in order to properly manage MS and live a healthy, happy, life, you need to make some life style changes. There are lots of alternative treatments for MS but even then, there is no “cure-all”, it takes effort and dedication. If you have just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis you have to make your health your biggest priority in life! I was not a huge health nut before I was diagnosed with MS so it has been a tough transformation for me to accept over the last few years but the more involved with my overall health I get the better I feel. It is always hard at first to endure the initial change of habits but once you make that transformation it actually becomes pretty easy!
I hate exercising, I always have hated it, so when I started hearing how important it was after being diagnosed with MS I was not very motivated. However, after I had my life changing relapse in February of 2012, I had no other choice but to start. I wanted to walk, I wanted to be able to take care of myself, so the limited amount of exercising I had to do to achieve those goals no longer seemed like such a big deal to me.
It’s like that commercial for Celebrex that uses Newton’s Law of Motion as their motto, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion”. This is true for Multiple Sclerosis as well. If you just lay around depressed you will physically begin to fall apart but if you push yourself to do what ever you can do, then you will do a lot better in life. You have to stay proactive! My biggest regret in life is that I did not start taking my health seriously till after my major relapse that took so much away from me; as they say, you don’t know what you have until you loose it. So the one thing I will tell you, don’t wait to loose it! The sooner you start taking your health seriously and the more proactive you are the less likely you are to loose a function.
Do what ever you can to move! Some people can run and some people can barely walk but they key is to always move what ever you can! Don’t think “wow, I can barely walk 10 feet now and I used to run miles!” because if you compare yourself to what you used to be able to do you will just grow depressed and give up falling further away from your goal. You have to start fresh and look at every little thing as a victory. Sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t currently run but then I try to remember that over a year ago I could barely stand up from my wheelchair and now I am walking a mile and a half every morning!
Stretch! This is what I hate about exercising the most, stretching! But of course, it helps the most… It especially helps with spasticity (tight muscles) so when I regularly stretch I notice that I can walk better and my legs don’t feel as tight but when I stop stretching for just a week my legs tense up and it gets harder to walk well. Seeing a physical therapist really helped me in this department because I was shown how to properly stretch different muscles to achieve different goals. Even if you can’t see a physical therapist there is a wealth of information online about proper stretching and light exercises, especially on Youtube!
Build muscle strength. This doesn’t mean you should take up body building, it means you need to build strength, not mass. Low weight, high reps not high weight, low reps. This means instead of lifting a lot of weight a few times to build muscle mass you should lift a lower amount of weight and do more reps to build endurance. The number of reps you should do to build strength will vary depending on who you talk to but just as an example, it would be better to lift as much weight as you can 15 times then only 6 times because at only 6 reps you are just building mass and not necessarily endurance. But again, this is just an example, you should talk to a physical therapist about your goals and abilities (or at least spend a lot of time researching this) before you start a routine. Also, start off slow! There is no rush! This takes time and I have said it before and I will say it again, don’t compare what you can handle now to what you could handle in the past. When I was in physical rehab during my major relapse, I could barely lift a 1 pound weight! In fact, most the time I could not even hold a weight so I used elastic bands instead called “Thera-bands” that produced different amounts of tension providing a safer way to build strength than using free weights. I still use them today and many people who exercise use these types of bands instead of free weights because of all the different things you can do with them!
The most important part about exercising with MS is to learn your limits. Don’t push yourself to the edge and fatigue yourself as you may end up relapsing which will just set yourself further back! You have to take it easy on yourself which can be really frustrating at first because it’s hard not to think “before I used to be able to do this much no problem but now I can’t even do half of that!”. Everyone with MS is different and we can all handle different amounts of physical exertion so there is no set answer on how much is too much, unfortunately you just have to figure it out over time. What was hard for me at first was feeling like I had the energy to do more but reacting poorly if I did. You have to learn to listen to you body and what it is telling you.
OK, no one likes to diet, but think of your body like a machine, you get out what you put in. Would a car run better on cheap, dirty fuel or the more expensive high octane fuel? Your body is the same way, do you think you will run better on junk food or healthy food?
There are many people who believe the answer to defeating Multiple Sclerosis is in dieting, they believe that eliminating certain types of foods and including others may help prevent the autoimmune response of MS. There are tons of books and websites on this topic and a lot of evidence to support these theories. Some people see amazing results after changing their diet and some people (like myself) don’t see or feel much of anything. Nonetheless, even if changing your diet doesn’t make your MS better it will probably make you feel better, HEALTHIER, and when you feel healthy it is easier to work on defeating your MS. Here are a few popular diets people with Multiple Sclerosis tend to follow;
Most these diets recommend many different supplements (vitamins). The best example is Vitamin D as many people with MS seem to be deficient in it which is believed by some to be a possible cause of Multiple Sclerosis. Some supplements can possibly help with symptoms such as fatigue or spasticity. It is definitely worth looking into and talking to your doctor about, maybe get tested to see if you are deficient in anything like Vitamin D of Vitamin B-12 to help make sure you are not taking too much because it actually is possible to overdose on certain vitamins!
There are always extremes out there when it comes to alternative treatments. Some seem absurd like lettings bees sting you to help MS and others make a little more medical sense like stem cell transplants. Not embryonic stem cells, but stem cells from your own body that are simply moved elsewhere inside you to try to rebuild the damaged myelin in your central nervous system. Before I started Tysabri I was raising money to have this procedure done because nothing else seemed to be working and I am not that big of a fan of bees. I have also tried a medication that is not FDA approved for treating MS called Naltrexone. This medication was originally used to help treat alcohol and opioid dependence but is now sometimes used in much lower doses to help treat Multiple Sclerosis. It’s known in the world of MS as “LDN” (Low Dose Naltrexone). Everyone with MS is different and what works for one person may not work for another so when it comes to alternative treatments? You don’t know until you try!