I had been experiencing sensory symptoms of numbness for three years prior to being diagnosed with MS. The first time I had an 'episode', I was at work. I suddenlynoticed that half my face was numb. I also had a throbbing headache at the time. I put it down to the stressful period I was going through and the feeling returned within a few days. The episode had definitely given me a fright but after doing a bit of research, it seemed that a likely explanation could be a migraine accompanied by symptoms of numbness. The next time I experienced numbness, it lasted a bit longer and most of one side of my body was affected. I still had strength and movement but I was definitely experiencing a loss in sensation. I didn't know it, but these were early signs of MS.
After experiencing a few more strange sensory episodes every few months, I decided it was time to tell my GP about them. I was formally diagnosed in October 2010. I was referred to a neurologist and endured an MRI which confirmed that I did in fact have multiple sclerosis. I was interested to know, how is MS diagnosed? The official Multiple Sclerosis definition refers to 'scars' or 'scleroses' —better known as plaques or lesions. As a result of the disease, these 'scars' occur particularly in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. My neurologist pointed out several of these lesions on my brain and spinal cord. That fact that I could see the cause of my condition made it very real. It came as quite a shock to me and my family. I was very concerned about Multiple Sclerosis life expectancy. I didn't really know anything about this chronic condition. I had always thought that it only affected women who were much older, and that MS symptoms in women happen much later in life. I was thirty-one and had a nine month old baby. This wasn't the time for my health to start falling apart!
[blockquote width="270" align="right"]MS is very unpredictable[/blockquote]
My neurologist was very reassuring and said that my condition was mild and that it could very well stay that way for the rest of my life. He told me that Multiple Sclerosis life expectancy was still very good and that I could still live a long and healthy life. However, within weeks, I started feeling a distinct weakness in my right hand and patches of numbness in different areas of my body. These episodes were longer than the previous ones I had experienced and were far more frequent. I began to realise the unpredictable nature of this disease. I felt helpless knowing that at any moment of my life, part of my nervous system could be under attack which could result in an unpleasant or debilitating symptom anywhere in my body. I needed to learn all about this disease as quickly as I could as these symptoms were definitely early signs of MS.
The Turning Point
I had my worst attack six months the after my diagnosis. I was three months pregnant at the time. My right hand and arm lost quite a bit of feeling and as a result, coordination. It was a tremendous task to write neatly. I remember trying to fill in some tedious passport forms and feeling a lack of control over my hand. As well as this, the right side of my neck came extremely itchy. I know now that this is a common MS symptom known as Pruritis. My husband used to watch in horror as I scratched my neck to pieces, desperately trying to stop this never-satisfied itch. These were a dark few weeks where I got a real taste of the debilitating nature of MS. I had never heard of these symptoms of MS in women before!
[blockquote width="270" align="left"]Injecting myself with drugs?[/blockquote]
It's funny how you often need to reach your lowest point to wake up to the fact that something has to be done about your situation. I knew what the medical options were and could not bear the thought of injecting myself with disease modifying drugs every day. This wasn't even going to guarantee a symptom free life but only a 30% reduction in episodes, at best.
I began to research alternative, natural treatments for MS with a vengeance. What I have come across are some astoundingly effective natural treatments, primarily through MS nutrition. I started discovering that the greatest success stories came from those who had completely altered their lifestyles. This was in terms of MS diet and MS nutrition, exercise and stress relief. Most of these people are living symptom free lives well into their latter years. I was filled with hope as I read these stories and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was the journey I needed to travel with my MS.
Changing My MS Diet
I contacted a well known nutritionist, Mary-Ann Shearer (The Natural Way Network), who has helped thousands of people overcome serious illnesses through a raw and natural foods diet. She currently operates from Cape Town, South Africa. Her extensive research into the impact of nutrition on the body helped me understand the role that food plays in either healing or harming. She put me on a strict natural diet which I call my 'MS diet'. You can read about this in detail in the post 'Diet and MS'.
[blockquote width="270" align="right"]Within weeks, strength returned[/blockquote]
Within two weeks of following this way of eating, I began to feel the strength returning to my body. My mind became alert and crystal clear, my energy levels increased and I felt a distinct motivation that I had not been present in months. My entire body was functioning on a different level: I slept better, my digestive system was like clock work and I felt more emotionally stable. I even lost some weight which was is always a bonus!
I remained symptom free throughout my pregnancy and felt great, largely due to my MS diet. I did, however, experience symptoms again a few weeks after giving birth. The soles of my feet became numb and I started to feel a loss of sensation in my right hand. I had read that a relapse was common after giving birth. I knew there were more pieces to this puzzle and a few months later, one large piece fell into place.
A Significant Breakthrough
My most significant discovery yet came almost a year and a half after I was diagnosed. I visited a medical doctor with a specialisation in nutrition and supplements as healing tools. He had ordered a comprehensive battery of blood tests and pretty much every 'level' in my body was tested. It was very expensive but one of the best investments I have made into helping my condition so far. It turned out that I was in incredible health and most of the hormones, vitamins and other important chemicals in my body were at optimal levels. This was obviously testament to the way I had been eating. However, there was one vitamin level that was critically low. This was the vital ingredient for so many chemical processes in my body, vitamin D. A normal, healthy level of vitamin D is between 60nmol/L and 100nmol/L. Mine was 8.3nmol/L. I explained this with the fact that I had been living in the UK for the past three years and obviously sunlight is a more rare commodity in this part of the world. I was in my home country, South Africa, at the time and started making an effort to be in the sun for 20-30 minutes each day. I also began taking a vitamin D supplements - which is vitally important (see the blog post on vitamin D and MS for more detail about the importance of vitamin D and how it works to improve MS).
Since that time, March 2012, I have not experienced any relapses. Every now and then I feel a small patch of numbness which usually goes away within a day or two and is usually because I haven't been following my MS diet regime strictly enough.
The more research I do, the more I come across other pieces of the puzzle. They are all starting to fit together quite meaningfully. It is clear that a holistic approach towards Multiple Sclerosis needs to be taken. One treatment in isolation may bring some relief to symptoms but focusing on a few at the same time tends to yield more effective results. This often allows people who were once disabled by their condition to return to a life of vibrant health.
This really highlights the fact the a healthy MS diet should be a priority to everyone. Take time to plan your MS diet, it will serve you in the long run. A balance MS diet will give you what your body needs - further adding supplements to this will take you closer to the point of allowing your body to start its healing process.
I'll keep you updated!