Hi, I’m Cathy Howard, I’m 51 and have secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). I was originally diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 1998 at the age of 30 and I later took ill-health retirement from work in early 2015.
I use two sticks to walk short distances, or a wheelchair or scooter if I’m going out. I applied for the Simvastatin trial as I was conscious that apart from some fundraising for MS Society and MS-UK over the years, I’ve never really done a great deal for others with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The MS-STAT2 trial is a double-blind study, which means that I don’t know whether I’ll be taking Simvastatin or a placebo, and neither do the Drs who administer and regulate it. To be honest, although it would be a bonus to me if I took the drug and it worked, I’ll be happy just participating. I will be sharing my experience of participating in the trial through regular blog posts on the MS-UK blog, so watch this space!
Today is my screening day appointment (19 August 2019). I got up ridiculously early because my husband John was stressed about us getting the train with booked assistance for me in my wheelchair. Bleary-eyed we head out to the station. I was eager for my first coffee of the day.
The train was on time and we got to UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology in London about 45 minutes early. Dr Tom Williams, MS Clinical Research Fellow, came to meet us and escorted us through the rabbit warren of corridors to the trial room. Here I had my second cup of coffee and I’m started to feel awake.
Tom introduced Dr Nevin John, MS Medical Clinical Research Fellow, who is also part of the study. Nevin advised me about the trial, what to expect and possible side effects of statins. He asked me questions, completed forms based on my replies, and requested for me initial consent forms. There is so much paperwork and record-keeping involved!
I then had a basic physical examination, including blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, and my heart and breathing listened too. My height and weight were checked and I had various vials of blood taken for testing.
I also agreed to take part in a brain oxygen study and mSteps smartphone analysis. I was wired up to the brain oxygen study machine and computer and baseline readings were taken. Then I had three separate minutes to say as many words as I can that start with a selected letter. Not as easy as you may think! From the problems I had, I expect I’ve got very little oxygen reaching my brain!
An app is being developed to accurately record walking distance and speed etc. I had a mobile phone with the app on it strapped to my arm and was asked to walk short distances. This also served for the walking part of the MS-STAT2 screening process.
All in all, it was a very interesting appointment. I was completely exhausted by the time I got home but felt like I’d actually done something productive and I’m smiling as I write this! This is it for now, but I’ll update you all on the next part of my journey very soon!
Inflammation is essential to our survival. It’s our first line of defence against the outside world. It attracts cells of the immune system to the site of danger to destroy pathogens and helps heal injury. As a short-lived response it performs excellently as protector and healer.
In multiple sclerosis (MS) inflammation is ongoing (chronic), with the myelin covering being attached by neurons wrongly identified as pathogens. The immune system attacks pathogens with oxidation. The oxidative damage causes further inflammation.
An unhealthy gut microbiome can be a source of inflammation. Boston researchers found MSer’s microbiome linked to ongoing inflammation. Luckily the microbiome is easily changed with food choices that nourish the microbiome.
Foods described below can have anti-inflammatory effects, either directly helping to resolve inflammation/oxidative stress, or indirectly by feeding our microbiome so anti-inflammatory microbes crowd out pro-inflammatory ones.
Champion foods (both direct and indirect effect)
Particularly rich dark, leafy greens contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which can directly reduce inflammation. Vegetable’s high fibre content feeds the microbiome. A small Italian trial found a high vegetable diet reduced inflammation, improved gut microbiome and helping to improve overall health.
Especially deeply coloured berries, which are potent antioxidants that can reduce inflammation. They also provide food for the microbiome, helping to keep your gut healthy. Try and make sure you are getting your 5-a-day, and aim for 10 if you can, after the NHS recently reported that 10 portions of fruit and vegetables is even better for us.
3. Oily fish
Mackerel, salmon and sardines are all sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3s, which UK researcher found increased anti-inflammatory bacteria in the microbiome and may help directly resolve inflammation.
These are a source of required omega-6 EFA, which can be inflammatory in excess. Walnuts have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3, and research has shown they promote anti-inflammatory microbes. Research found that walnut oil reduced inflammation in a mouse model of MS.
Another great source of EFAs. Some seeds, such as flax and chia seeds have a high anti-inflammatory omega-3 content.
6. Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is a source of antioxidant vitamin E and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. A review of multiple trials indicated that this oil could improve inflammatory disease symptoms.
Ginger has well known anti-inflammatory properties. An Iranian researcher indicated it may reduce inflammation in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).
It’s been in the news a lot recently and is now well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it has poor absorption. Consume it with healthy fats and black pepper to improve the absorption.
Indirect effect via the microbiota
9. Legumes and wholegrains
Another good source of fibre which has been found to benefit gut microbiota.
Out of the above list seven constitute the Mediterranean diet. Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet is very similar to the high vegetable diet used in the Italian study mentioned in point one. It showed an anti-inflammatory effect in MSers and reduced disability. The anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet is being looked at by a variety of experts and particularly for people with MS.
Sharon was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and prompted a career change to nutrition with the goal of empowering people to take positive steps toward feeling better. Sharon aims to share her nutritional knowledge, the latest nutritional and lifestyle research and expertise from healthcare professionals. Visit Sharon’s website for more information about her and her latest articles.
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Professor Dawn Langdon asks for your help to tackle MS cognition
Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience cognitive difficulties; poor concentration, trouble remembering, some call it “cog fog”. We know quite a bit about how these difficulties play out on formal tests that psychologists use. But we are less good at understanding the experience of people with MS with cognitive difficulties.
There are a number of questionnaires that report cognitive difficulties that have been designed for people with MS, and others which have been suggested that might be useful for people with MS. The point is that it will probably never be possible for every person with MS to be offered a cognitive assessment. Some of us are working towards making this happen (researchoutreach.org/articles/bicams-cognition-multiple-sclerosis). But we have to be realistic about the current situation.
We are trying to find a questionnaire that a person with MS could fill in, which could tell any health professional something useful about that person’s experience of their cognition. This could help the nurse or doctor present health information in a helpful way. It could flag up cognitive difficulties to health professionals and trigger them to monitor the additional risks that cognitive difficulties bring (poor disease management, including medication adherence; increased risk of falls and driving accidents; decreased involvement in life generally, including employment difficulties). I don’t want to sound too gloomy here. But if we are to make progress we have to have information. This is our ammunition in the fight for better services.
Take the survey
If you would like to help, are a person with MS and can spare 30 minutes, please fill in our online survey.
Also please pass this on to anyone else that you think might be interested.
This study is the MSc Clinical Psychology thesis project for two students at Royal Holloway, University of London, where I work. Their names are Tabby Mahoney and Nathalia Bosoko.
If you would like more information about cognition and MS, you could visit the MS Trust’s website www.stayingsmart.org.uk.
You could also look at the books by Jeffrey Gingold, who is an expert MS patient advocate:
These are available on Amazon and some of the profits go to MS charities.
Jeffrey has also recently done a Webinar, “Facing and Manging the Cognitive Challenges of MS”, which you can watch on YouTube.
How to get involved
If you have any questions about the survey or would like to help us with our work on cognition in MS, please get in touch (email@example.com). I have to ask for your understanding, because this is a busy few weeks in the university, and it might take me a week to get back to you.
On Friday morning I set off to the University of Warwick to attend the annual MS National Therapy Centre Conference.
MS National Therapy Centres (MSNTC) is a charity which represents individual therapy centres across England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. These centres provide treatments, therapies, help and support to some 15,000 peop
le living with multiple sclerosis (MS) every week.
The annual conference and AGM is a chance for therapy centres to come together, share best practice and learn from each other. The conference, which was hosted by Frank Sudlow, Chair of the charity, ran over two days and included workshops, speakers and lots of updates about the world of MS.
I was particularly keen to hear Dr Dawn Langdon speak about cognition and MS and I wasn’t disappointed. Dr Langdon is Professor of Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway University of London. Her talk included an update on what research is being carried out to discover the impact of cognition difficulties for people living with MS as well as some useful insights about how people can improve their cognition by stretching their brains. It gave me a lot of food for thought!
The conference was also a chance for me to meet up with other CEOs from the national charities… David from the MS Trust and Nick from the MS Society. It was great to be able to talk to them about their work and how they are supporting people affected by MS as well as updating them on what MS-UK is doing. I hope that we can work together in the future to reach even more people and let them know we are all here to help in any way we can.
I wanted to say a big thank you to the MS National Therapy Centres for inviting us – see you next year!
Amy Woolf, CEO
I wanted to invite you to complete our survey which launched today about loneliness and isolation.
Last year we consulted with the MS community to inform the development of our new strategy. The most talked about gap for people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) across the UK was appropriate support to tackle loneliness and isolation. We were told that there was simply not enough support to overcome the barriers contributing toward their isolation and not enough available to help them feel a part of something, connected to the world and less lonely.
We are now beginning to look at this area and we would like to understand this issue a bit more. The voices of people affected by multiple sclerosis inform all our work and this insight is incredibly valuable as it brings us perspectives that no one else can give. I hope you will take five minutes to complete this short survey and help us stay on course to provide people affected by MS not only with what they want from us, but crucially, how they want it.
The topics of loneliness and isolation can be difficult to deal with at times, so if you would like any support at all please get in touch with our helpline. You can email the helpline, call us on 0800 783 0518 or connect with us online.
Thank you so much for your contribution,
Head of Services
Another instalment as I am taken by the train to the hallowed turf that is Hammersmith Hospital. This began with an early start at 4.45am. I know, a clock should only see this once a day. Teeth were brushed, the shower was jumped in, the beard was conditioned to an inch of its life, as it has gone really dry and coarse of late. It is feeling soft once again, albeit the purple has faded somewhat. I'll probably colour it again, but will definitely do so before the Chemo in May. Mostly so the dust pan gets to look good as it is swept up.
I am now sat on the train thinking about the need to get home in good time later today, to take the prescribed pills and the magic jab juice. I have been doing all this much closer to lunch time anyway, so I have another 6 hours, give or take before it might affect my current time scales.
As far as the side effects go, I do consider myself lucky as I am taking anti sick pills, with no sickness noted. I must say I have only been taking twice a day as opposed to the instructed three times as advised. If I had the slightest inkling of feeling sick, then I would certainly be taking them as instructed. I was told about the joint aches and pains, at the beginning too. Again this gas been kind too, don't get me wrong, if I am out pottering about town, as I was yesterday treating myself to some new jeans and a shirt. (Pandas breed more frequently than I buy new clothes by the way).
Today I am feeling aches in my left hip, my lower back and my left eye again. I assume the hip and back are from the drugs, as I was informed would be the case, by Naghma, the well informed Nurse at Hammersmith, but the left eye is blind anyway, so as long as is isn't too bad, I'll not worry about it. If it was my good right eye, then it would have my full attention and I'd pop in to hospital about it.
Peterborough hospital eye clinic have always been pretty good at squeezing me in at short notice when needed. I try not to bother them unless I am getting genuinely worried about my right eye. Either way, all the aches and pains are dealt with using paracetamol.
Well, that was close. The silence on the train woke me up...phew! God knows where I might have ended up.
Once awake, and back on my stumbley clumsy feet, I took the usual walk to the Victoria line down stairs on the far side of Kings Cross station, then get off at Oxford Circus, to get on the Central line, looking for White City. From there I get on either the No 72, or the 272 bus towards Hammersmith Hospital. All was so very smooth today in my getting here. I will say though, that I really do need to get some paracetamol. My lower back doesn't half ache. Maybe a combination of the walking a fair bit over the last few days, and my being 4 days in to the stem cell generation, and the achy bones are to be expected.
From speaking to the Nursing staff here, I am now in the prime time for the aches to be really biting down. As the day is slowly moving on, yes, I can feel those aches. Do I sound like I am whinging yet?
My bloods have been taken by Nurse Harry and they have been sent off, as I sit here wondering where I can get those paracetamol tablets, on my way home.
Ok, so I fell asleep as the bloods were sent off, and was told they'd be ready after lunch, and with the time at 10.30 now, off I trot to central London for some nice food and to kill some time. I do pass a chemist, but meh! It'll be reet.
I eventually find myself in Selfridges food hall trying to eat ramen broth, but yes my right hand is still rubbish, so I am forced to eat the long stringy noodle goodness with chopsticks using my left hand. Actually I did well, and got away with it. Now back to Hammersmith, by now I am really flagging and my back is aching a lot more than I gave it credit for. It is, every now and then, a quiet groan-worthy amount of ache. I really regret not getting some paracetamol to scoff.
Eventually I get back to Hammersmith, to be told, all my bloods are exactly where they should be, and to come back on Monday for the big stem cell removal. So I say my thank yous to everyone and make my way home, thinking I knew a sly pocket full of paracetamol wouldn't go a miss right now.
I am on the train thinking, if the aches were anything to worry about, I would have bought some. I do see the aching bones as the Body telling me it is busy generating squillions of big fat juicy stem cells for me. You see, it might be super rubbish at running and tying my shoe laces at the moment, but it can spit out stem cells to order when it needs to. Thank you Body, you ain't that bad after all. Thank you X.
Way back in 2016 MS-UK hosted a team from the School of Sport Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences from the University of Essex here at our headquarters.
The team were running a trial testing the use of an Xbox game specifically designed to support people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Since then, they have been working hard to continue exploring possibilities in this area, and yesterday I had the privilege of being invited to the MS Olympix at the University of Essex.
The day included taking part in three different games that could be played standing up or sitting down.
Sarah, who was first diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2007, attended the event...
‘After hearing about the day at a Josephs Court social coffee morning, it sounded really interesting. It is really good fun and some of the games – especially the ones that involve lifting my feet up – really helps my balance and coordination. It’s like playing the Wii at home but more fun!’
Sarah added, ‘the system comes from a background of rehabilitation, so I’d love to see it developed so people like me, living with MS, can use it at home’.
A big thank you to the team for inviting me to join in and we will keep everyone posted on future studies in exergaming!
Laura May, Communications Manager
Issue 114 of New Pathways magazine is out now. In this jam-packed edition, we take a look at the recent changes that could affect those of you who take CBD oil, on page 12. We also ask ourselves “Am I having a relapse?” Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with MS for years, there will come a time when you will ask yourself this question, to find out more turn to page 39.
Page 21 offers some helpful advice to those who have found themselves caring for a friend or loved one and don’t know where to start when it comes to finding support.
Louise Willis MS-UK Counsellor talks about managing fatigue and how spoon theory can help you manage and explain it to others on page 28.
MSer and feature writer Ian Cook investigates if magnets can help multiple sclerosis in Cook’s Report Revisited on page 19.
Mary Wilson, #5 Para-Badminton player in the world, reveals her hopes of representing Team GB in Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on page 24, and discover how music therapy could help your MS on page 23.
In addition, don’t forget to read all the latest news and real life stories from MSers living life to the full and why not give our tasty free recipe a try!
About New Pathways
New Pathways magazine is a truly community led publication written by people with MS for people with MS. Each issue offers a variety of information on drugs, complementary therapies and symptom management, plus all the latest news and research and your amazing real life stories.
To subscribe, visit www.ms-uk.org/NewPathways, or call 0800 783 0518. Audio, plain text and digital versions of the magazine are available on request, simply call 01206 226500 and let us know your requirements.
Today is National Non-Smoking Day. Have you ever wondered how smoking can affect multiple sclerosis (MS)? Do you need help quitting? Read on...
Research has shown that the risk of developing MS is three times greater in male smokers compared to male non-smokers, and for women the risk is one and a half times greater. It is thought that smoking may damage the cells which line blood vessels and these damaged cells cause the vessels to leak, allowing the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke to damage the brain.
In a study researchers found current or former smokers with relapsing remitting MS were three times more likely to develop secondary progressive MS, another phase of MS marked by a steady increase in MS symptoms and disability, compared to non- or past smokers. However, quitting smoking is something that has been shown to slow disability progression.
A study revealed that 62% of the people diagnosed with MS had been exposed to parental smoking as children, compared to 45% of people diagnosed with MS, whose parents did not smoke. The research also pointed to a time-related correlation between the increase in risk of developing MS as an adult and the length of time a child had been exposed to passive smoking.
For people taking the disease modifying drug Tysabri (natalizumab), there is evidence that smoking increases the risk of the body developing neutralising antibodies to the therapy, causing the drug to have little or no therapeutic effect. A study revealed the risk for developing neutralising antibodies was over twice as high in smokers, compared to non-smokers.
Although stress is a well-known MS trigger and it can exacerbate symptoms, smoking does not have therapeutic benefits. Research has shown that people who smoke actually have higher stress levels than those who don’t.
If you need help quitting smoking visit:
The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) are seeking the views of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and carers about new medicines it will consider recommending for use in NHS Wales, such as fingolimod (Gilenya), to treat MS in paediatric patients.
They would like you to share with them what it is like to live with MS or to care for someone who has it, and by contributing you will provide invaluable information about patient and carer needs.
In addition, they will be asking clinical experts to give their views and the medical facts. All of this information combined will give a really good insight into the real effects MS has on patients and carers and help inform the drug approval process. You are not expected to have all the answers, but anything you can share will be incredibly helpful.
If you would like to share your experience download the questionnaire to complete and send it to the address below by the 18 March 2019:
All Wales Therapeutics & Toxicology Centre
University Hospital Llandough
Penlan Road, Llandough
Vale of Glamorgan
Alternatively you can fill out the questionnaire here. All information shared with AWMSG will be kept confidential.
AWMSG is meeting on 15 May 2019. At the meeting the group’s lay member will summarise all comments from patients and carers, and patient organisations. Only AWTTC and committee members will read the completed questionnaires.
If you would like more information, or help with completing the questionnaire, please call 02920 716900 or email AWTTC@wales.nhs.uk.