Recently I had a moment of truth. You know those 'aha'moments where something just clicks? I had the distinct realisation that my food and lifestyle are literally fending off my MS, protecting and guarding my body from the ravages of auto-immune activity. Even although I've always known my food was helping the healing process along, I had never viewed it as a weapon!
Stressful, horrible days crop up every now and then which seem to put me at risk for disease activity and inflammation. I'll go to bed with a few aches, pains and tingles. Inflammation appears to be creeping in. I'll feel sure that my luck has finally run out and that a relapse process has begun. Know the feeling?
I know these 'starter' symptoms all too well because this is exactly what happened in the three years before I completely changed my lifestyle. I could always tell when a relapse was coming on. The symptoms would start slowly and gradually get worse. That horrible, sinking feeling hits you and you just know, right then, that the next few weeks are going to be a bit more challenging than usual. It's a horrible thing to have to cope with, mentally and emotionally. I often just wouldn't tell anyone and suffer in silence until it passed.
However, since I started the MS diet, this has all changed. When I do experience these 'starter symptoms', they are short-lived. I'll wake up the next morning as right as rain with no tingles or aching. Relapse averted. Phew! It seems that some wonderful, healing process happened in the night to force the auto-immune process to retreat.
I've begun to realise that there is definitely something (or many things) in my body protecting me. I have also come to believe that when the body is armed with the right weapons, a protective mechanism kicks in to keep auto-immune activity at bay.
This is obviously an extremely complex process, the extent of which will never be fully known. However, we do know some of the factors that give rise to it and keep it in place.
Four Protective Factors
Amy Myers, a functional Medicine doctor has this to say about auto-immune conditions:
"I want to tell you, as a functional medicine physician who specializes in treating autoimmune patients and as someone who has battled an autoimmune disease myself, that the most important thing to know about autoimmune diseases is that they can be reversed."
It's great to have confirmation of this from a medical doctor! She doesn't advocate disease modifying drugs either. In fact she advises against them for reversing autoimmune conditions.
From my research and experience, I believe that there are four main ways that you can help your body protect itself from MS.
1. The Army of Nutrients
We all know that the food we eat will either heal or harm our bodies but certain nutrients actually have specific, protective qualities. Foods that are unprocessed, plant based and antioxidant-rich are the soldiers that you want in your food army. Antioxidants, such as those found in berries actually go around wiping out the free radicals that cause disease. I find this truly amazing. I include a large handful of frozen berries in my smoothie each morning which make me feel fabulous.
Antioxidants include Vitamin A, C, E, Beta Carotene, Lutein, Lycopene and Selenium. You'll want to drastically increase your consumption of foods such as spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, avocados and all fruit. I've also started taking a vitamin C supplement to make sure I'm getting enough of this protective nutrient. Please see the MS Diet page for full details on which foods to eat.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that has been shown to have a remarkable protective effect. It actually modulates the immune system and keeps rogue T-cells in check. It's kind of like the headmaster stopping naughty pupils from getting out of control. We can get vitamin D from salmon and good supplements but all you really need is 15 minutes sun exposure a day.
2. Healing the Gut
'All disease begins in the gut'. This is one of my favourite quotes from Hippocrates because it's so true! It is now a well-known fact that a damaged gut is one of the causes of autoimmune activity. We damage our gut lining through bad food, poor lifestyle choices and too many antibiotics. This results in undigested particles sneaking through the gut lining, into the blood stream. This can make the immune system go crazy as it tries to attack these 'foreign invaders'. Unfortunately it can start attacking it's own tissue as a result.
The good news is that the cells in your gut are replaced very quickly, so it can heal in as little as thirty days. A gut that is in good condition is certainly a huge protective factor against autoimmune activity.
Amy Myers recommends the following four step approach:
- Remove the Bad — Remove inflammatory foods, toxins, and stress that damage your gut, as well as gut infections from yeast, parasites, or bacteria
- Restore the Good — Replenish enzymes and acids necessary for proper digestion
- Reinoculate with Healthy Bacteria — Make sure you have plenty of friendly bacteria to support your immune system - fermented foods and probiotics supplements will help with this
- Repair the Gut — Provide the nutrients and amino acids needed to build a healthy gut lining
You'll know if your gut is damaged as you'll be feeling the effects: bloating, cramping, constipation and generally that feeling that all is not right for many hours after you eat a meal.
3. Detox your Body
It's so important to be giving your body opportunities to cleanse and detoxify. Unfortunately we're exposed to many different toxins on a daily basis from pollution to chemicals in our food. Firstly, try and prevent toxins from entering your body by eating mostly organic vegetables, avoiding all preservatives (even healthy food sometimes has preservatives in it), filtering your water and keeping your air clean.
Secondly, try and support your body in its efforts to cleanse and heal. Provide more opportunities for this to happen. Definitely make sure you're drinking enough water. This is a basic and the body can't help you effectively without at least 4 large glasses of water drunk throughout the day.
Another way the body cleanses is through intermittent fasting. This is actually something you can do everyday! Try and fast each day from 5/6pm until 8/9am the next day. This will give your body 15 hours to focus on healing and cleansing without having to worry about digesting. I feel that this has been one of the main protective factors for me. My body just functions better this way.
4. Manage Your Stress Effectively
Stress is so bad for MS! However, if you can learn to cope with it effectively then you've just added another huge weapon to your arsenal.
Stress affects your immune system in two different ways. Firstly, it charges up your immune system and produces a wave of inflammation. Secondly it suppresses your immune system because your body knows that sustaining a high level of inflammation is dangerous. Being revved up and down all the time is not what your immune system is designed to do. It often responds to chronic or escalating stress by triggering or worsening an autoimmune condition. Yes, we all know about that!
There are so many effective techniques that can help with stress reduction. Meditation and breathing techniques involve calming the whole body down which reduces the impact on the immune system. Exercise is also a fantastic way to deal with stress as it floods your body with feel good hormones. It is also anti-inflammatory so is a protective factor in its own right.
Summing it Up
I've tried to keep this article simple and manageable without going into too much detail. I want you to understand that if you take action and implement these four factors, it's highly likely that your MS will stop progressing and you'll stay well for the rest of your life. This is enough motivation for me! The right food, a healthy gut, detoxification and effective stress management are four of the main weapons your body needs to protect itself from auto-immune activity. Help your body to protect you!