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Living with Multiple Sclerosis and Treatment Approaches

by Wendy Gist(more info)

listed in medical conditions, originally published in issue 129 - November 2006

About 85,000 people in the UK suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.[1] Every week around 50 more people in the UK are diagnosed with MS.[1] More and more are becoming increasingly aware, either from movies or television, that MS is an incapacitating disease that affects the central nervous system. Many want to get involved in helping those suffering from MS. In order to accomplish this task, an overview of alternative therapies will be helpful.

Carol McCoy
Carol McCoy

Carol McCoy’s Experience with Multiple Sclerosis

What would you do if, walking along on a normal, sunny day, your legs suddenly gave out from under you, the feeling never to return? This was the case with Carol McCoy, who was diagnosed with Primary-Progressive MS in 1988. The Primary-Progressive type is considered an unusual form of MS, a slow commencement and gradually worsening of symptoms. Unfortunately, this incapacitating disease affects the central nervous system and haunts millions of people worldwide.[2]

Carol McCoy vividly remembers her first episode. In 1986 she was carrying her son, then aged two, when her legs suddenly gave out from under her. She felt as if she didn’t have any strength. Carol thought, “Boy, I’m in really bad shape!”[3] She was 38 years-old.

A few months passed, and she began to notice numbness in her midriff and assumed she had a pinched nerve. She visited a chiropractor, which had no affect. Her symptoms continued for approximately six months, after which she began to feel heavy fatigue. She occasionally lost balance, tripped and even fell. Something peculiar was happening, and she knew it, but she still could not decipher the mystery. Carol decided to visit a physician who failed to find anything wrong. Doctors can’t always identify MS in its early stages.

•    Did you know three women have MS for every two men?

•    Did you know there are 2.5 million people with MS worldwide?

•    How can we donate to the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF)? Call +44 (0)207 620 1911 or email for further information;

•    How can we help give in order to help solve the mystery of MS? For more information about The MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair. Visit:

•    Find out how you can make a difference by becoming a member of the MS Research Circle: MS Society, MS National Centre, 372 Edgware Road, London NW2 6ND – Tel: 020-8438 0700

•    Free MS Help Line: 0808 800 8000

It wasn’t until the age of 40 that Carol was officially diagnosed with Primary-Progressive MS. Because she couldn’t find disease modifying drugs for her particular type of MS, she turned to non-traditional therapies to escape pain and manage symptoms.

Carol refuses to feel sorry for herself. “I try not to dwell on my disability because it makes me feel worse,” she says. She finds that keeping an optimistic attitude, the support system she receives from family, friends, MS support groups and painting, are anchors in her life that keep her sane. “The major aspect which plays an important role in my life is the support of my husband and children,” she says. “It’s hard on my husband. I try to remember that MS affects everyone involved, not just me.”

Alternative approaches, such as Vegetarian diet, Meditation, Aromatherapy (St John’s Wort), Massage, Reiki, Horticultural Therapy and Yoga, have helped improve Carol’s quality of life, while retarding disease progression. From years of experience of living with MS, Carol finds the above complementary therapies to work effectively with her body. However, all individuals, it must be noted, are entirely different in responding to healing modalities for this disease. The above approaches do provide relief, but Carol never gives up hope for a cure. All treatments, at this point, are a temporary management of symptoms.

Explaining MS

An estimated 2.5 million people in the world have MS.[4] Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological disease. Medical experts believe MS to be an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system wrongly attacks an individual’s healthy tissue. This condition most often affects young people. The disease is normally detected in people between the ages of 20-40.[4] MS is not directly hereditary or contagious.

Another interesting fact about the disease is that “the incidence of MS increases in countries further from the equator.”[4] According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease “occurs more commonly among people with northern European ancestry.”[5] It is a progressive, unpredictable disease attacking the nervous system which affects more women than men.[6] Regrettably, today there is no cure for MS. However, researchers are dedicated to searching for answers.

There is a myelin connection to MS. Myelin is a fatty material that protects nerve endings of the central nervous system. The central nervous system includes the optic nerves, brain and spinal cord. In MS, the protective myelin is lost in multiple areas. This, in turn, creates scar tissue damage called sclerosis. The phrase multiple sclerosis, in actuality, means many scars. The scar tissue damage is referred to as plaques or lesions. Lesions can damage the actual nerve fibre. Myelin not only insulates and protects nerve fibers but allows them to transmit electrical impulses to and from the brain. When the myelin or nerve fibre is ruined, the nerve’s capacity to send out those electrical impulses becomes interrupted, therefore, creating an array of symptoms.

The exact cause of MS is unknown. However, experts believe that some infectious agent is involved in initiating the disease process.[7]

Identifying Symptoms

The debilitating symptoms of MS differ from person to person. Some of the varied symptoms, however, include:
  •   Episodes of tingling;
  •   Episodes of numbness of feet, legs, hands and arms;
  •   Fatigue;
  •   Depression;
  •   Loss of balance;
  •   Tremors;
  •   Bladder problems;
  •   Slurred speech.
If you were to ask a room full of people with MS about their symptoms, chances are you would be given different sets of answers. In other words, a different set of symptoms may occur in each person inflicted with MS. Carol’s MS support group share their entirely diverse problems with one another. Carol’s symptoms include intense numbness and inflammation in her feet, constant fatigue and limited mobility. Mysteriously, in some cases, the symptoms can vanish entirely, and once lost functions can be totally recovered. In severe cases of MS, however, the symptoms may be permanent.

There are five types of MS, including Relapsing-Remitting (RRMS), Secondary-Progressive (SPMS), Primary-Progressive (PPMS), Progressive-Relapsing (PRMS) and Benign MS, all of which afflict MS sufferers in different ways.

Complementary Therapy Options

Most MS individuals use some form of complementary therapy to manage their symptoms, in addition to disease-modifying drugs that have been shown to help slow the progression of MS. A number of men and women with MS, however, report side-effects from these drugs. There are many alternative methods that may help manage MS symptoms: antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, yoga, vegetarian diet, curcumin and Horticultural Therapy are possible treatments. These alternative therapies deserve attention, as many of these implementations have been successful in assisting individuals to modify disability. Recent studies will demonstrate how several alternative approaches help those battling this chronic disease. However, disease management, it must be stressed, is an individual issue – what may help manage one person’s MS may not help another. One advantage for all MS sufferers is to work towards maintaining a strong immunity. “While the exact cause of MS is not known, much is known about its effect on immune system function, which may be the ultimate cause of the disease.”[8]

Antioxidants Support MS Symptoms

New research demonstrates various techniques to manage MS symptoms. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Department of Biomedical Research, Numico Research BV, Wageningen, The Netherlands:

Antioxidant and polyunsaturated (PUFA) treatment in an animal model of MS decreased the clinical signs of disease. Both dietary antioxidants and PUFAs have the potential to diminish disease symptoms by targeting specific pathomechanisms and supporting recovery in MS.[9]

Therefore, MS individuals may benefit from a diet rich in antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Implementing antioxidant rich foods and supplementation may serve as a viable option in supporting recovery in MS.

Yoga for Fatigue

Yoga may offer relief for heavy fatigue, which is reported by most individuals with MS. One study by the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland found subjects with MS participating in a six-month yoga class showed significant improvement in measures of fatigue compared to a waiting-list control group.[10]

Those with MS may consider joining a yoga class with an instructor trained in working with disability (who can arrange transportation needs), or implement a DVD home-based instruction programme to help provide energy.

Vegan Diet and Fish Oil Help Autoimmune Diseases

Another alternative for MS, which deserves recognition, is a vegan diet. It has been suggested that whole-food vegan diets, fish oil and dopamine agonists are useful in preventing and treating autoimmune disorders. A study found that:

There is evidence that vegan or quasi-vegan diets are useful in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and possibly Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). The dopamine agonist bromocryptine exerts anti-inflammatory effects in rodent models of autoimmunity, and there is preliminary evidence that this drug may be clinically useful in several human autoimmune diseases.[11]

Vegan diets, fish oil and dopamine may be possible management tools in the fight against MS. Interestingly, Dr Roy Swank, MD, founder of the Low Fat Diet treatment for multiple sclerosis says, “there were eight times as many MS cases in those mountainous, high-saturated-fat consuming areas than along the coast where they were primarily fishermen.”[12]

Curcumin Shows Promise

Curcumin may provide support to MS. An interesting study by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville TN showed:

Curcumin is a naturally occurring polyphenolic phytochemical isolated from the rhizome of the medicinal plant Curcuma longa. It has profound anti-inflammatory activity and has been traditionally used to treat inflammatory disorders. Curcumin inhibits experimental allergic enceplalomyelitis (EAE) by blocking IL-12 signalling in T cells, and suggests its use in the treatment of MS.[13]

When living with MS, natural options such as curcumin may help by reducing inflammation and other symptoms. Carol incorporates  small amounts of curcumin into her diet for added inflammation support.

Horticulture Therapy Helps Disability

Garden settings have been known for centuries to provide curative effects. People with physical disabilities, such as MS, may experience healing in garden environments. Many people with disabilities are unaware of Horticultural Therapy (HT), which is devoted to creating therapeutic garden spaces to accommodate disabilities.[14] HT involves various practices that may benefit MS symptoms, essentially gardening rehabilitation to improve mood and quality of life.

Horticultural therapists are experts in wheelchair access for in-home usage, designing wide paths and entrances suitable for aid equipment. Trained horticultural therapists pride themselves on devising accessible atmospheres to encourage happiness and reduce stress. An appealing study conducted by New York University School of Medicine concluded, “HT improves mood state, suggesting that it may be a useful tool in reducing stress.”[15]

In fact, McCoy is living proof that garden settings do, in fact, reduce mood swings. She finds that the use of garden surroundings, including roses, geraniums and various scented and bright coloured flora, significantly improves unwelcome melancholy often related to MS sickness.

Furthermore, the above therapy solutions are affordable and effective – aiding the mind, body and inner wellbeing.

How to Reach Out

What can ordinary people – non-specialists – do to help individuals with MS? There are many MS organizations that can provide information on MS and ways to contribute. Researchers are working hard to find new, improved therapies.

For example, the Multiple Sclerosis Society needs your help raising money for research programmes that aim to develop treatments that can repair myelin damage. The Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis believes that “the logical route to a cure will come from determining the causes of MS.”[16] In other words, MS organizations can use volunteer work and contributions to help facilitate and speed valuable research. Other ways to help are by organizing and participating in fundraisers (i.e. MS Bike Tours, MS Walks) and campaigning.

The public can help in other ways as well. Due to the extreme fatigue and limited mobility in MS individuals, everyday duties can be a challenge. Offer to help out with household chores, transportation and daily tasks (such as cleaning, getting dressed and going to an appointment), which are major obstacles that can completely drain those with MS.

 Encouragement goes a long way. Encourage and inspire those with MS to do the following, which can help manage the disease:
  •    Attend support groups to provide emotional support. Exchanging information about the disease and learning from others new research and therapies can be therapeutic. Talking with others who have the disease can help deal with emotional issues, such as sadness, anger, depression, frustration and other emotional changes, brought about by MS illness;
  •    Exercise. Fitness can benefit MS. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, “gentle exercise can make relapses less disabling and prevent long-term muscle wastage and postural problems.”[17] Yoga and Pilates are beneficial workouts.
  •    Help individuals with MS get outdoors. Let them breathe in fresh air. Take them to a pristine, natural setting with running water, flowers and trees. Include areas such as a park, a zoo, a botanical garden or simply a back yard or terrace. Some MS sufferers prefer shaded areas due to irrepressible body temperature rise and fall. Recommend a horticultural therapist;
  •    Motivate MS acquaintances to eat a well-balanced diet to support fatigue, bones, teeth, flexibility, immunity, heart health and weight. Include supplementation, fresh fruits, vegetables and antioxidant-rich foods shown to help slow symptoms. Those with MS should consult with a nutritionist who is familiar with MS to learn specific diet information suited to help the disease.

Carol Today

Today, Carol McCoy still struggles with her disease, experiencing a slow progression. MS is a tough disease to face. However, with the help of family, friends, community and organizations, it can be survived. Fortunately, Carol has been given aid through various programmes which have donated used equipment, including canes and a motorized scooter. She expresses her gratitude to those programmes, as the equipment enables her to be mobile. Carol’s symptoms now include weak limbs, feeling weighty and out of balance, frequent loss of coordination, pain, uncomfortable tingling, temperature fluctuations and afternoon fatigue. Carol stresses how eliminating meat from her diet and limiting dairy intake have helped her a great deal with fatigue. And, thanks to Reiki touch, Aromatherapy massage and Meditation practices, she can now look tomorrow head on, whereas before she couldn’t fathom the possibility of a hopeful future. Because Carol is unable to find disease modifying drugs available for her type of MS, she relies extensively on alternative ways to manage symptoms.[18]


1.    Multiple Sclerosis Society of UK. July 5 2006. 2005.
2.    Statistics FAQ. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Retrieved July 8 2006. .
3.    McCoy C. Personal Interview. 505-388-8788. Silver City. NM 88061. Feb 2006.
4.    MS the disease. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Dec 20 2005. .
5.    Just the facts. National Multiple Sclerosis Society pamphlet. 2005.
6.    MS the disease. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Dec 20 2005.
7.    About MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Jan 3 2005. .
8.    MS the disease. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Dec 20 2005. .
9.    Van Meeteren ME et al. Antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids in multiple sclerosis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 59: 1347-61. 2005.
10.    Oken BS et al. Randomized controlled trail of yoga and exercise in multiple sclerosis. Neurology Journal. 62: 2058-64. 2004.
11.    McCarty MF. Upregulation of lymphocyte apoptosis as a strategy for preventing and treating autoimmune disorders: a role for whole-food vegan diets, fish oil and dopamine agonists. Medical Hypotheses. 57: 258-75. 2001.
12.    McDougall Interview with Dr Roy Swank, MD. Dr McDougall’s Health and Medical Centre. Retrieved July 10 2006. .
13.    Natarajan C and Bright JJ. Curcumin inhibits experimental allergic encephalomyelitis by blocking IL-12 signalling through Janus kinase-STAT pathway in T lymphocytes. Journal of Immunology. 168: 6506-13. 2002.
14.    The History and Practice of Horticultural Therapy. American Horticultural Therapy Association. Dec 25 2005. .
15.    Wichrowski et al. Effects of horticultural therapy on mood and heart rate in patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation programme. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation. 25: 270-4. 2005.
16.    MS The Disease. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. July 12 2006. .
17.    Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis. 2006. .
18.    McCoy C. Personal Interview. Silver City. NM 88061. Feb 2006.


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About Wendy Gist

Wendy Gist MS is Clayton College of Natural Health Honors graduate with a MS in Natural Health. She is a freelance writer; her work appears in Alternative Medicine, Better Nutrition, and other leading international publications. She may be contacted via

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