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NYT: The MS Recovery Diet

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:44pm
I was excited to see the New York Times review a book about recovering from MS through diet. Ann Sawyer and Judith Bachrach penned The MS Recovery Diet to show that it's possible to regain lost function in MS through diet. The cover even claims it's possible to live symptom-free. For some people who are very strict on the diet, it is entirely possible.

Here is part of the NYT interview with Ms. Sawyer:

“This approach is simple, it doesn’t cost anything and nobody is making money from it. We’re not saying the diet is a cure; it’s a way to control the symptoms of MS. Walking around watching what you eat is a lot better than sitting in a wheelchair.” [MED NAUSEUM COULDN'T AGREE MORE!!]

Before she started the diet, Ms. Bachrach, a former dancer and movement instructor, could not even use a wheelchair because her upper body had become too weak to manipulate it. She was 35 when she learned she had MS; by 49, she was mostly bedridden. Then, in 2006, she met Ms. Sawyer and decided to try the diet she suggested.

“After one week on this diet, I regained feeling in my toes,” she wrote. “After about six weeks, I also gained incrementally in terms of endurance and muscular rebound. I was even able to walk back down to the waterfall on my land, to carry firewood, to empty the ash bucket, to make a spaghetti sauce and to stay up to greet my husband on his late return from a trip, all in one day, and still felt just fine.

“There is no doubt that on this diet, my good days are definitely better. I continue to gain new sensations, mobility, strength and endurance every month.”

The first tenet is to replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats. This is the only part of the diet with which I'd quibble since there are only two studies showing saturated fats actually cause ill health. Michael Pollan posits that fats have been unfairly demonized since most studies mix all fats -- including trans fats -- into the same category.

At any rate, I was encouraged by the reasoning behind the other dietary restrictions, which are based on common food intolerances, like wheat and dairy, and the theory of molecular mimicry. Molecular mimicry is when your body makes antibodies to a partially digested food protein, and since the antibodies are not all that specific, they can mistake your own tissues for that food protein and attack them. In MS, of course, your antibodies target the myelin sheaths that act like the plastic insulation on electric wire. Here's how the NYT describes it:
The theory behind the “recovery diet” is that in susceptible people, partly digested proteins stimulate an allergy-like immune response, resulting in antibodies that mistake myelin for the offending protein. These antibodies can then enter the brain and attack the myelin sheath, disrupting nerve conduction and eventually causing death of the axons. The goal the authors suggest is to identify and eliminate culprit foods from the diet to quiet the immune response.
I've lived through the same health changes as Ms. Sawyer and can definitively say this will work in many people with MS. I was bedridden for 3.5 years until I changed my diet to eliminate foods to which testing showed I'm intolerant - i.e. the foods to which my body was making antibodies. The diet becomes your new wheelchair - without it you are immobilized by your symptoms. But, I'd rather have a pain-in-the-butt diet than be in actual pain.

I've helped many people reduce symptoms of chronic illness (autism, PDD, dyslexia, MS, lupus, psoriasis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, etc.) and the benefits are amazing. The diet gets to the root of the problem-- preventing symptoms, unlike most pharmaceutical drugs which just mask symptoms.

To get tested for food intolerances, follow these four steps:
  1. Begin with a blood screening for celiac disease at your internist's or gastroenterologist's office. That test is a yes/no for celiac in your MD's mind, however, if any of the scores are higher than zero, count yourself among the gluten intolerant and try a gluten-free diet.
  2. If the blood test is totally negative, follow up with a stool test for wheat and dairy from www.enterolab.com.
  3. If the enterolab test is positive and removing wheat and dairy don't do it for you after trying to strictly eliminate these foods for 3 - 4 months, then get a 96-food IgG Food Intolerance Panel (finger stick) to see if other foods are causing your problems. Here is one source for the panel: Vitamin Research Products. (Note: VRP calls it an "allergy" panel, but technically it is a food intolerance panel measuring Ig G antibodies, not the Ig E classic allergies you would already be aware of having.)
  4. Finally, see a nutritionist or naturopath to balance your diet and heal your gut so you can add more foods back. This will allow you to get by with eliminating as few foods as possible over the long term, and gut health gives a big boost to your overall health.
Let food be thy medicine; and thy medicine thy food. - Hippocrates
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