Therapeutic lifestyle changes have recently become a top priority in multiple sclerosis research, and medical perspectives are beginning to change.
Until recently, for example, MS patients typically were discouraged from doing physical exercise because it appeared to worsen fatigue and other symptoms of the nerve disease. Now, new evidence shows that the opposite is true.
“The first line for every chronic disease must begin with addressing diet and lifestyle as thoroughly as possible,” says Terry Wahls, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa.
She speaks not only from extensive research, but from personal experience. Dr. Wahls was confined to a wheelchair for four years after being diagnosed with MS in 2000.
Without specific lifestyle changes to control MS, she tells Newsmax Health, “It is not possible to medicate yourself to health.”
Dr. Wahls developed a regimen that restored her own health.
After helping other MS patients follow in her footsteps, she published research on the subject, and wrote "The Wahls Protocol," a blueprint to natural MS remission.
Today, she bikes to work five miles each way and lives an exceptionally active life, teaching, seeing patients, and lecturing all over the world.
The right diet significantly reduces fatigue and improves mental function and mood, while exercise improves physical function, including the ability to stand and move.
Dr. Wahls’ basic diet excludes gluten, dairy, and eggs, because these most often trigger autoimmune reactions that drive MS symptoms.
However, certain vegetables contain critical nutrients for rebuilding a healthy nervous system and brain.
For men, she recommends three (or more) full dinner plates of vegetables daily: one of leafy greens; one of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, or bok choy; and one of brightly colored vegetables and fruit.
Women should eat two-thirds of these amounts, she advises.
Each meal should also include 2 to 3 ounces of meat, and may include gluten-free grains and legumes.
Legumes and grains are limited to twice a week, and for even greater improvement, completely omitted. For fruit, berries are most therapeutic.
All versions of this diet also produce significant weight loss, where needed, without hunger, says Dr. Wahls.
Strength training, stretching, and aerobic exercise are part of a therapeutic MS lifestyle, but balance exercises are especially critical.
“As we age, our balance input to the brain declines,” says Dr. Wahls.
To improve balance, twice daily, hold this position for up to 30 seconds: Stand on one leg with one eye closed, and practice until you can keep both eyes closed. Repeat on the other leg.
MS Lifestyle Discoveries
• A Harvard study of people newly diagnosed with MS found that those with the highest blood levels of vitamin D experienced the slowest progression of the disease.
• Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that being aerobically fit slows shrinkage of the hippocampal region of the brain among people with MS.
• Not smoking reduces risk for MS, and after someone quits, progression of MS slows down by 5 percent per year afterward, according to a British study.
• At Brown University, a four-week salsa dancing program improved gait and balance, and benefits lasted for three months after the program ended.
• Eating less than 2 grams of sodium daily correlated with fewer MS symptoms, in an Argentinian study.
• Obesity can trigger MS, prolong episodes, and worsen symptoms, according to an analysis of 329 studies by Israeli researchers.
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