A Different Approach to Multiple Sclerosis
“I was diagnosed with MS about 15 years ago,” our reader writes. “I haven’t taken any of the medication that my doctors wanted me to take. For the last year or 2, I have weakness in my left leg. I’ve eliminated dairy, grains, gluten; and I’m not sure what else I should do at this point.”
First, what is MS? Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition in which your nerve cells become damaged, often leading to debilitating symptoms such as fatigue, numbness, and impairment of speech and muscles.
I want to tell you about my friend and colleague Dr. Terry Wahls, who was diagnosed with MS and used the power of Functional Medicine and food as medicine to help heal her body. Dr. Wahls was diagnosed in 2000. By 2003, she had to start using a wheelchair because of the progression of this disease. In 2007, Dr. Wahls discovered Functional Medicine and decided to adopt the hunter-gatherer diet (also known as a Paleo diet). In addition to this diet and some alternative therapies, Dr. Wahls was able to go from almost being bedridden to completing an 18-mile bicycle tour.
So, there is hope. And through the power of Functional Medicine and food as medicine, we can create some astounding results. Here are my tips for tackling autoimmune conditions such as MS:
- Eat a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods including wild fish and other sources of omega-3 fats; red and purple berries (these are rich in polyphenols); dark green leafy vegetables; orange sweet potatoes; and nuts. Add anti-inflammatory herbs, including turmeric (a source of curcumin), ginger and rosemary, to your daily diet. Eliminate inflammatory foods such as refined, omega-6 and inflammatory oils, including corn, soy and safflower oils.
- Check for hidden infections. These include yeast, viruses, bacteria and Lyme. You will want to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to identify and eliminate these infections.
- Check for hidden food allergies. Again, your Functional Medicine practitioner can do this with IgG food testing. Also work with a doctor to look for nutritional deficiencies such as low vitamin D.
- Test for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.
- Fix your gut. About 60 percent of your immune system lies right under the single-cell-layer lining of your gut. If this surface breaks down, your immune system will get activated and start reacting to foods, toxins and the good bugs in your gut. The easiest way to begin healing your gut involves eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet (see tip 1 above) and removing gluten and other foods that cause sensitivities – including corn, dairy, soy.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don’t have to go to the gym, run on a treadmill and pump iron to stay in shape. Just start moving around more. Go for walks with your friends or family. Go out and do some gardening. Play Frisbee in the park with your kids. Pick up a tennis racket and just knock a tennis ball around. Anything you can do to get out and move your body can be considered exercise. So don’t think that you absolutely have to go to the gym to get fit. Just use your body more.
- Practice deep relaxation. Stress amps up your immune system response. Incorporate calming techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, daily to relax.
- Sleep for 8 hours every night. The research is clear: Lack of sleep, or even poor-quality sleep damages your metabolism, causes cravings for sugar and carbs, makes you eat more and drives up your risk of numerous conditions from diabetes to autoimmune disease. Getting enough sleep and sleeping well are essential for vibrant health and reversing inflammation.
I also highly recommend The Wahls Protocol, which you can learn about here.
No one wants to hear that they’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, but there are things you can do today to reduce the symptoms of your disease.
Tackling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Our next question comes from Margo who asks, “I’ve been diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, and I’ve tried everything. What can I do?”
This topic is near and dear to my heart. When I was a young doctor, I suddenly got very ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. Every system in my body broke down. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs; I developed intense brain fog; and I was exhausted all the time. This is when I discovered Functional Medicine and created a plan for myself to heal my body of this debilitating syndrome.
Most of us don’t learn how to manage our energy and bodies well. We use drugs – sugar, caffeine, alcohol, adrenalin, or worse – to manage our energy and moods. Most of us don’t connect our behaviors and choices with how we feel every day. We don’t connect what we eat, how much we rest and sleep, how much we exercise, how much time we make for connecting with friends and community, or the kinds of media and news we watch with how we feel every day.
This is what I had to learn when I wanted to heal my body, and these are the steps I took with my own condition.
It all starts with your mitochondria.
Mitochondria are like tiny factories that turn food and oxygen into energy. In each cell, there are hundreds to thousands of these little energy factories. They exist in greater numbers in active organs and tissues, like the muscles, heart and brain. Simply put, the mitochondria are where metabolism happens. The role of your metabolism is to take the oxygen you breathe and the food you eat and process it to make energy, the fuel for life. Along the way, many things can go wrong that may impede your metabolism, making it run less efficiently or practically shutting it down.
The problem? Mitochondria are very sensitive to damage. And when they aren’t working properly, you suffer all the symptoms of low energy — fatigue, memory loss, pain, rapid aging and more. Fatigue is the most common symptom of poorly functioning mitochondria. In fact, the reason we tire more easily as we age is the constant insult and injury we inflict on our mitochondria. But this doesn’t have to happen! We can protect our mitochondria.
The first order of business is to find the things that damage your mitochondria — things like toxins, infections, allergens and stress. The biggest insult over time is eating too much high-calorie, low-nutrient food — in short, too many “empty calories.”
When food is burned or metabolized with oxygen in the mitochondria, your body produces waste in the form of free radicals, which create a chain reaction of rusting, or oxidation. Unless you have enough antioxidants in your diet or you make enough in your body, you can’t protect yourself from the damage to your mitochondria. So when you eat empty calories — such as sugar, flour and processed foods that don’t have the high antioxidant levels of fruits and vegetables — you produce too many free radicals that tip the balance and start a chain reaction of cellular and tissue damage that destroys your mitochondria and, thus, your life force. In short, oxidative stress is a slow, progressive process of deterioration that contributes to practically every known disease. It is part of the inevitable entropy, or chaotic breakdown, that is the basic principle of life.
So now you know what can damage your mitochondria. Here’s how to protect them.
First, address the causes of mitochondrial damage:
- Minimize your intake of processed food, junk food, sugar, empty calories, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and other chemical food additives. Their toxic effects can damage your mitochondria and prevent them from producing energy properly.
- Address inflammation. Chronic, smoldering inflammation slowly destroys our organs and our ability for optimal functioning, and leads to rapid aging.
- Address hidden issues. Lyme disease, hidden gut infections, heavy metal poisoning and adrenal fatigue are all root causes of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. In my case, I had heavy metal poisoning. Work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to get to the bottom of these issues.
Next, boost and protect your mitochondria:
- Eat food that’s full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Include 8 to 12 servings of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains every day.
- Take mitochondria-protective and energy-boosting nutrients. These include acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, n-acetyl-cysteine, resveratrol and magnesium. While not a cure-all, these nutrients, taken in conjunction with a whole-food, plant-based diet, can provide metabolic support for those low on energy.
- Increase omega-3 fats to help build your mitochondrial membranes. Coldwater fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and herring, are good sources of omega-3 fats, as are flaxseeds and omega-3 eggs. They all help strengthen the fragile cellular membranes that make your mitochondria work the way they’re supposed to.
- Prioritize sleep: We have a second national debt crisis — sleep debt. And there is no way to trick biology and raise this debt ceiling. Get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Everything in your life will look and feel better, and you will make better choices when you do this.
- Avoid drugs: Almost all of us use drugs every day to manage our energy. These include sugar, caffeine, alcohol and more. Think about taking a “drug holiday” for six weeks and see how much better you feel.
- Remember feeling well: When I get off track, I simply remember what it is like to feel great and what I have to do to get there — eat better, sleep more, exercise more, or do nothing more!
Now I want to hear from you. Are you dealing with MS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Share your thoughts on my Facebook page. If you liked this video, be sure to share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, and tweet me your questions (@MarkHymanMd). Maybe next week I’ll make a House Call to you!
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD