Awareness of multiple sclerosis (MS) is on the rise amongst the wake of Selma Blair’s brave announcement about her condition. In gratitude to her, more people are asking how multiple sclerosis starts, how it can be treated, and whether there are ways to alleviate the symptoms and the progression of the condition.
Multiple sclerosis is considered to be a chronic condition, which affects the central nervous system, but what may be surprising is that multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks parts of the brain and spinal cord. Specifically, T cells, a type of protective white blood cell, attack the myelin, a protective covering, of the nerve tissue in the central nervous system. As the nerve tissue is damaged and destroyed over time due to the confused attack by the T cells, symptoms worsen and the disease state progresses.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary amongst individuals, yet generalized symptoms are lack of balance and muscle coordination, loss of memory, and cognitive impairment. There are various pharmaceuticals on the market to help treat MS, most of which are immune suppressants and steroids; these are typical lines of defense when dealing with most autoimmune diseases. With a simple google search, you can find other supportive therapies for those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, such as group therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, and even acupuncture.
While it’s refreshing to see that acupuncture is listed among therapies to help diminish the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, there are other ways, from a holistic perspective, that can be implemented to lessen the symptoms, flare-ups, and progression of the disease.
A deeper dive into the understanding of autoimmune disease reveals that various triggers can initiate the disease state. Despite what we learned in Biology 101, we are not born with defective genes just waiting for a time bomb to go off and then one day…poof! we have the disease. Rather, with further understanding of epigenetics, the study of the environment and its role on genetics, we learn that stress hormones, environmental and food toxins, and gut health play a major role in setting the stage for an autoimmune condition later in life.
Here are a few ways in which symptoms and progression of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, can be lessened.
1. Eliminate Toxins.
This is a big topic because toxins are found in everything and exist everywhere: food, air, fabric, cosmetics, cleaning products, and the list continues. Consider this. It is estimated that 78% of those living with autoimmune disease are women; 60% of those with multiple sclerosis are women. So, it becomes necessary to re-evaluating commonly used products by women, such as toxin levels of hair, skin and body products as well as makeup, fingernail polish, and hair dye. Using an app like Think Dirty can provide deeper insight into what potentially harmful products could be applied to the body on a daily basis. Anything applied directly onto the skin or lips enters directly into the bloodstream.
Also, the use of plastics should be eliminated, as they contain harmful toxins, which can be leached into food or water. Cleaning products also need to be checked, as many of these too contain harmful toxins, which enter into the system through the respiratory system.
2. Go Organic & Eat the Right Foods
This is an extension of eliminating toxins, but it’s so important that it needs its own section. It is understood by those in functional medicine that gut permeability can have significant effect on initiating autoimmune. Glyphosate, a widely-used weed-killer and known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) directly affects the gut lining by poking holes throughout the digestive tract, thereby allowing toxins to exit the gut and circulate in the bloodstream without being checked by the liver and digestive system, the proper detoxifying gatekeepers. Eating organic is more important than ever when it comes to healing autoimmune diseases.
Beyond going organic, there are other dietary modifications to consider. Dairy, grains, sugar, nightshades, and alcohol are all inflammatory foods, and so in order to prevent or treat a flare-up of any autoimmune condition, it is important to eliminate the most inflammatory foods. Focus on eating cooked vegetables, small amounts of grass-fed beef, and lots of good healthy omega-3 fats, such as avocados, wild caught salmon, and nuts. Personally, I like The Plant Paradox diet by Dr. Steven Gundry for MS or any other autoimmune-related conditions.
3. Get Acupuncture
Yes, of course get acupuncture! Why? Well, for several reasons. Acupuncture calms flare ups of multiple sclerosis as it modulates the immune system, decreases stress, improves the quality of sleep, helps detox the body, calms systemic inflammation, and increases blood flow to all organs of the body, thereby supporting their functions. Weekly to bi-weekly acupuncture treatments are suggested for anyone with multiple sclerosis, whether for prevention or during an active flare up.
Getting the sleep that is required will go a long way with slowing the progression of autoimmune, as it allows the body to rest, recover, and rejuvenate. The best sleep is typically between 9pm-12am and again from 7am-9am. Have difficulty going to sleep? Turn off the screens, including phone, TV, and computer by 9pm. Wear blue light blocking glasses, which are easy to find on Amazon. Use a meditation or sleep app to help ease you into sleep, and turn off the wi-fi.
5. Self Care
So, this may seem a bit flippant, as we are talking about a serious disease state like multiple sclerosis; however, stress plays a significant role in regulating the immune system and triggering systemic inflammation. Finding a fun, creative outlet, such as writing poetry, painting, or making jewelry allows the cells of the body to be bathed in happy hormones and neurotransmitters, which ultimately prevents the likelihood of a flare-up. Other means of self-care include laughing (a lot), daily gratitude journaling, and spending time with loved ones.
6. Find a Holistic Healthcare
Choosing a holistic healthcare practitioner with experience in supporting those with autoimmune disease and multiple sclerosis is crucial. There is a lot of information available to anyone who suffers from multiple sclerosis, especially when it comes to lifestyle and dietary modifications. Finding a supportive healthcare practitioner who can be of assistance on this journey back to wellness will be a tremendous relief and one less thing to focus on when all else feels challenging and overwhelming.
Written by: Lori J. Earley
Lori J. Earley is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Certified NAET practitioner, and board certified herbalist who specializes in chronic illness, including autoimmune disease. She uses acupuncture, plant medicine, nutritional guidance and lifestyle modifications to help prevent and ease the flare-ups associated with autoimmune disorders. She is the owner of Phoenix Rising Acupuncture, a nationally recognized acupuncture and herbal clinic, in Houston, Texas.