In the second part of her blog, nutritional therapist and naturopath Tanya Clarke reveals the diet and lifestyle choices which help her manage her condition
As I mentioned yesterday, a holistic approach aims to find the root cause driving the chronic illness. It could be poor nutrition, allergens, lack of exercise, infections, lack of sleep, toxins and/or stress - physical or emotional - or any combination of these.
I follow a naturopathic diet, based on organic wholefoods. It is a very anti-inflammatory diet, high in vegetables (raw or lightly steamed) and whole fruit.
I eat a rainbow of colours of fruit and vegetables. Colourful vegetables and fruit contain specific micronutrients that support your health and combat biological stress with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules.
I rarely eat cow’s milk products, but goat and sheep products are fine. I minimise caffeine and tannin intake, except for green tea. I rarely eat gluten, simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. I am not vegetarian but I eat a lot of vegetables and I eat more fish than meat – I only eat red meat occasionally.
I do not eat processed foods as they can be a problem due to their high sugar and salt content, and they are very inflammatory. I check for food intolerances, and avoid the resulting foods as they can increase inflammation. I try to add them back into my diet after a period of elimination.
I check for nutritional deficiencies and possible malabsorption. For me, adding flaxseed oil in to my diet every day is essential. It is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which is anti-inflammatory. I eat cold water fish – wild salmon, herring and mackerel, two or three times a week, as this is also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Foods rich in essential fatty acids may be beneficial in decreasing symptoms and flare-ups of MS.
I add organic lecithin granules to my diet every day – this is important for the structure of the myelin sheath. I check for heavy metal toxicity and follow chelation therapies for reducing this. I used to keep a health diary to note what I was eating, my stress levels, emotional status and physical activity – I would score my overall wellbeing for that day out of ten, then for that week, then the month, and so on, reducing the frequency of recording as symptoms improved.
I am trained in the use of medicinal mushrooms, and I have found that they can be very helpful with MS as they are immunomodulating. They are a good source of vitamins D and B12, and they can offer neuroprotective and neuro-regenerative benefits. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.
To support the health of my gut and the elimination of toxins, I do a 10-week gut restoration programme and a six-week cleanse programme every year. I exercise regularly to keep my muscles strong – spending plenty of time outdoors in nature with my horses and dogs. I try to catch the sun for 15 minutes when it is out to top up my vitamin D levels. If the weather is bad, I find yoga beneficial for my strength, flexibility and breathing – it provides a boost for my physical and mental wellbeing.
I meditate every day. Various studies have shown that meditation may be helpful in reducing pain and improving quality of life in patients with MS. I have used both acupuncture and homeopathy, which helped to bring my body back into balance.
I am very careful with my stress levels. If I know that I am about to go through a very stressful period, I focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet to support me and increase the amount of time that I spend outdoors. I also meditate more frequently. Learning to say ‘no’ was very difficult for me initially but absolutely essential when looking after myself. It is not being selfish, it is just that there are times when taking on any more would be detrimental to my own health.
Never forget that good health is all about keeping the body in balance. That balance has different requirements for each individual, but it can be found and improvements can be made.
MS is not an inherited disease, however there is genetic risk that may be inherited. More than 200 genes have been identified that each contribute a small amount to the overall risk of developing MS. So starting with your genetic profile is useful, as it can guide you with how to create the most appropriate environment for your body to prevent it following the potential disease path of a genetic predisposition.
Start your journey
Think about your physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing. For each one, consider how you can best support your body. Often it will be a combination of DMDs and dietary/lifestyle choices.
Hippocrates said in 400BC that ‘All disease begins in the gut’ so optimising gut function is a great place to start. With MS being an autoimmune condition and with 70-80 per cent of your immune system being in your gut, optimal gut health is crucial.
Start with looking at your diet – what are you putting into your body? Is it a healthy balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, not too much saturated fat or processed food? Are you staying hydrated?
Then look at how you are eating – do you watch the TV while eating? Do you always eat while on the go? How stressed are you when you do eat? Do you chew your food properly?
Next, look at what you are absorbing from that food. There are tests available to check for nutritional deficiencies and possible nutritional malabsorption. Genetic predispositions are useful to know here. Check your vitamin D and vitamin B12 status if your GP has not done this already.
It is important to consider elimination. Your body will create waste – how well do you eliminate that waste (stools, urine and sweat)? If your elimination processes are not functioning well, toxins may build inside your body.
Minimise exposure to exogenous toxins – eat organic food when you are able. Look at other toxins that you may be exposing yourself to – skincare products? Household cleaning products? Tap water? Diesel fumes? Solvents? Aerosol sprays?
Avoid smoking – studies have found that tobacco smoking is associated with more severe MS. It also may speed up disability and disease progression.
Always try and avoid overwork and fatigue. Manage stress – try the breathing 4-7-8 technique, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, then out for eight, daily meditation - start with free guided meditation on one of the apps - and practise positive thinking.
Make sure that you get enough time to sleep and rest. Go to bed early and aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.
Exercise regularly. Tai Chi and Yoga are very good to help relaxation, balance and with muscle strength. Try to get outside every day in the fresh air to enhance your mood and to provide you with some vitamin D when the sun is shining.
Stay connected with friends – join a support group. Sometimes this may have to be via video calls.
Overall, learn to listen to your body.
It should be emphasised that dietary and lifestyle options should be complementary and not be taken as alternatives – they should be part of a holistic approach and be under the guidance of your medical practitioner. We are all individuals. A wellness journey is a very personal one – a journey that can help you find your unique combination of factors that can nudge your body back into balance.
Please make sure that you consult your MS consultant/GP before self-prescribing supplements and making significant dietary changes. This is particularly important if you are on prescribed medications. It is essential to check that there are no drug/nutrient interactions.
Yesterday I explained why a holistic approach is so inportant in MS. You can read that post here My holistic approach to multiple sclerosis
Tanya is a naturopath and nutritional therapist. To contact her, visit www.tanyac.co.uk
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