Some people bring more love and light into the world than the average person. Judy Graham is one of these inspiring human beings. I had the privilege of meeting Judy a few weeks ago at Matt Embry's speaking event. Her words really struck a cord in me. Judy has a powerful story to tell and I have subsequently been in touch with her to do an interview. What I really love about Judy is her authenticity and honesty. She's not afraid to admit her imperfections. Her story is one of recovery, falling off the bandwagon and then courageously getting back on with more determination than ever. I know you'll be impacted by what she has to say.
Judy Graham is author of ‘Managing Multiple Sclerosis’, ‘Multiple Sclerosis – The Self-Help Guide’, ‘Evening Primrose Oil’ and ‘An A-Z of Alternative Therapies for MS.’ She edited the MS magazine ‘New Pathways’ (published by MS-UK) for 14 years and is now retired.
When were you diagnosed with MS and what were your first symptoms?
I had odd symptoms from the age of around 19 – balance, tripping over, fatigue – but thought nothing of it. But when I was 23 something happened which did make me take notice. I was driving up the M1 motorway in my little white Mini when suddenly my left arm went completely dead. It was floppy like a rag doll. I couldn’t use the gearstick and was stuck in third all the way to the newspaper office where I worked in Hemel Hempstead. Forty-five minutes later the feeling came back. I was shocked and shaken, but did nothing about it.
A few weeks later, my left arm went dead again. But this time the numbness went all the way up the left side of my neck and face. Then it was both arms. Then I got funny ‘electric shocks’ in my neck when I bent forward. Then it was distorted sensations in my legs – hot, cold, numb, prickly or rubbery. Then I felt a tight banding feeling around my chest. All this was worrying enough to send me to the doctor, who said, ‘Come back if anything else happens.’
Sure enough, other things did happen – icy legs, I couldn’t feel my feet, patches of numbness. I went back to the GP three times before he said, ’You’ve got Multiple Sclerosis. Don’t tell a man until he’s in love with you.’ But that’s another story.
I was sent for tests at the National Hospital. At the end, they dryly said, ‘We confirm your doctor’s diagnosis.’ This was in 1974. At that time there were no disease-modifying drugs for MS, only steroids to dampen down inflammation. No drugs – not even steroids – were offered to me and I was pretty much left to my own devices. I would probably have resisted drugs anyway, and have never taken any for MS except drugs to help bladder symptoms.
When did you start changing your diet and way of life? What did you do and how did these changes help to manage your MS symptoms?
I had no idea about MS. No one in my family had it and I didn’t know of anyone who had. I wanted to meet other people in the same situation, a task made easier by an article in The Sunday Times by Jeremy Saise. It was grimly titled, ‘I Know How I Will Die.’ The article was angry – why was there nothing that could be done for people like him with MS? Why so little research?
In Jeremy I felt I had found a kindred spirit. I got in touch with him, we met and set up a meeting of others with MS who had also written to him. This was the very beginning of the self-help group ARMS – Action and Research into Multiple Sclerosis.
I simply could not believe that nothing could be done to help MS. So (decades before the invention of Google!) I started researching. I stumbled upon two trailblazers on diet for MS – Roger MacDougall and Rita Greer, whose husband Alan had MS. In both cases, they had improved by going on a strict diet. I met them, found both Roger and Rita inspirational and decided to follow their lead as laid out in the booklets each had written.
Always one quick to apportion blame to myself, I interrogated myself as to what I might have done to bring this ghastly illness upon me. My diet had not been terrible, but it was certainly not the healthiest – high in dairy, wheat and sugar and low on green vegetables and fruit. I liked nothing better than a toasted cheese sandwich! Uggh!
Within months of my diagnosis I went on a strict gluten-free and dairy-free diet. The Cheddar on toast would have to go, along with the chocolate digestive biscuits and puddings with cream. After that, the episodes of strange symptoms became less frequent – though they did not completely disappear and I could concentrate on my new high-octane job as a researcher in BBC Television.
It was through ARMS and serendipity that I came into contact with some maverick doctors – Professor E.J Field and Dr David Horrobin. Both believed that essential fatty acids play a major role in MS. They urged me to take evening primrose oil, which I promptly did and have never stopped. I was also greatly influenced by biochemist Professor Michael Crawford, who encouraged me to eat a brightly-coloured salad every day with coloured vegetables like red and yellow peppers, beetroot and greens. On top of this, I also started taking a handful of other supplements recommended by Roger MacDougall and Alan Greer. This included a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral. This list has grown since then and now includes acidophilus, turmeric and anti-oxidants. (The full list is in my book ‘Managing Multiple Sclerosis.’)
During your talk at Matt Embry’s event, you mentioned that you stopped following the MS diet, strictly at some point. How long ago was that? How did this impact on your symptoms and disease progression?
Although I have never doubted the benefits of the diet, I confess to being a weak-willed human and have foolishly broken it on several occasions in the last 40 or so years. A wedding, Christmas, going out with friends – temptation was sometimes just too great. Also, I just wanted to be a ‘normal’ person who could eat the same as everyone else. But the truth is that if I eat the same as everyone else, I suffer and my walking gets worse.
How easy it would be if eating the wrong foods immediately brought on some ghastly, dramatic symptom. But with me it hasn’t been like that. The effects of eating the wrong foods have been subtle, but terrible in the long term. Brain fog and fatigue were always the quickest to show. But every time I came off the diet, my walking got perceptibly worse.
What are your current symptoms and what do you currently do to improve them?
I can still walk, but not very far. I rue the times I broke the diet and often wonder how much better I might be now if I had stuck to it religiously. One can never know.
I am now back on a diet which is free from gluten, dairy and sugar. ( I have never stopped taking the supplements). Almost straight away, I had more energy and zest for life. I also go to a Pilates class twice a week. I am also in favour of many other things which can help MS such as meditation, reducing stress, and Complementary Therapies like Acupuncture.
My aim is to stick firmly to the diet, supplements and exercise and would strongly advise all those newly-diagnosed with MS to do this. I have often met people who say things like, ‘I tried it for three months but it didn’t work.’ My advice is to keep the faith and stick to it. The chances of getting worse if you don’t are overwhelmingly high. It’s just not worth the risk!
Judy, we are so grateful to you for sharing your story. Thank you for being a front runner and spreading the word about how to treat MS with diet.
It is often very difficult to stick to this way of eating, especially if we're frequently attending social events, dining out and getting together with friends. And, yes, there is that little voice at the back of your head that says 'I just want to be like everyone else and eat what everyone else is eating!'. However, as Judy said, the effects of this decision will show in a slow but sinister way over the years and it's just not worth it to put yourself in this position.
Let's grab Judy's advice with both hands and stick to what we know is good for our bodies. Don't lose heart if you haven't seen results as quickly as you thought you would. It can often take years of perseverance to feel that your MS has stabilised. We need to keep the faith.
If you would like to contact Judy directly, please let me know.