I’ve spent a lot of time lately around people following special diets. They’re either voluntarily cutting carbs, counting calories, following a diet plan, or fasting, but not because they have a medical condition. Mostly they diet to feel better, lose some weight, or reset their metabolism. I wish them well, even as I wish they’d keep their diets to themselves.
MS is not cured by diet
One of the first things people assume when they discover I have MS is that my condition is somehow diet-related. Either food is the root cause of MS, or diet is its first-line treatment, or what one eats can cure MS. All this, despite the fact that MS is not a metabolic disorder. Even though it’s an immune system disorder, there’s little evidence supporting restrictive diets as a way to reverse its course. Eating healthy may relieve our symptoms, but let me be frank; this is not the same as a cure.
Poor diet doesn’t cause MS; healthy eating can’t prevent MS
At my initial post-diagnosis visit, I asked my neurologist whether I needed a special “MS diet.” She only recommended that I eat healthy foods and practice healthy habits (i.e., drinking lots of water and avoiding junk food). It’s common sense stuff, really, that I’ve done my whole life. I grew up on back-yard garden vegetables. I’m a gourmet home cook, and make most things from scratch, or as close to it as I can. I grow herbs right outside my kitchen window.
I had my food sensitivities tested. The nutritionist confirmed that, except for some cow’s milk items, I’m not allergic or sensitive to food. I was cleared to eat healthy whole foods. That included breads, lean meats, and other so-called “bad foods.”
Then I started Tecfidera, and I discovered what other Tec users found — that I needed to consume a high-fat, high-protein meal with each dose to tolerate it best.
Even now, if I just have a quick bowl of oats in the morning (rather than a couple of eggs,) I pay a price for it later with GI distress and something called “flushing,” which is when the capillaries beneath the skin flush with blood. Flushing gives me a bright red complexion that lasts up to 30 minutes, with tingling, itching sensations along the tops of my feet, around my eyes, and inside my ear canals. Needless to say, I don’t enjoy these adverse effects, so I make sure I eat a robust meal with each dose.
Food may be your enemy, but it’s not mine
Food has become the “enemy” for so many. For those who’ve confirmed (through lab analysis) certain allergies, celiac disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, and other metabolic problems, I offer my sympathies. But food is not my enemy. I will eat a banana, even though it has carbs, because it prevents muscle cramps. And the eggs I eat for breakfast aren’t the enemy; they help metabolize my medications so I literally don’t spend the day on the toilet.
My brain and I thank those carbs, eggs and other so-called “problem” foods (peanut butter and kefir have been saviors) for making it possible to live a normal life.
For some reason, everyone wants to put me on a diet — either some mythic MS “cure,” or the diet they’re on currently. If it makes them feel better, then certainly it also will make me feel better.
“Wait,” I want to tell them, “I’ve been in remission for years. I already do feel better.”
No miracle diets for me, thanks
I recently lunched with friends. Our group was joined by a new acquaintance. When she learned I had MS, she immediately scorned my choices. “Coffee is giving you adrenal fatigue,” she said, “and everyone knows wheat belly saps your energy.”
What fatigues me is not the food I’m eating; it’s the effort and energy it takes to educate others. It’s one reason why I stopped being a teacher.
Politely, I asked her, “Do you have brain damage?”
She gave a disconcerted blink.
I explained. A healthy brain burns tons of glucose. MS causes brain damage. A damaged brain requires even more glucose to maintain function. When the glucose is spent, fatigue results.
“But your diet still makes you tired,” she defended.
“Do you see a nutritionist?” I asked.
She shook her head no.
“I suggest you take up your argument with mine, then,” I said. And I sipped my coffee, and buttered a roll to go with my vegetable chili. That’s all the glucose I was willing to spend.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.