NYACK, N.Y. -- A multiple sclerosis -- or MS -- diagnosis can trigger fears of disability and pain in many patients. However, MS varies in severity and in some cases may not even require treatment. While there is no cure for the disease, taking prescribed medication and implementing dietary changes can positively impact many of those affected.
"The most common question people ask is whether there’s a diet that can help fight the disease," said Jennifer Reardon, Certified Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroscience Registered Nurse at the Madlyn Borelli Multiple Sclerosis Center at Nyack Hospital. While there is no proven “MS Diet,” there are many treatments including drugs and lifestyle changes that can help slow down the disease and keep patients as healthy as possible.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body, through its immune system, attacks its own tissues. This interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body, causing symptoms that often include muscle weakness in arms and legs and difficulty with coordination and balance. Most people with MS also have feelings of fatigue, as well as numbness, prickling or “pins and needles” sensations.
The cause of MS is unknown. In some people, MS can be relatively benign, while in others it is somewhat or severely disabling. MS often first appears between the ages of 20 and 40.
Treating Multiple Sclerosis
Some people suffering from MS do not need therapy. For those who do need treatment, however, there are a number of therapies approved by the FDA including oral tablets, IV infusions and subcutaneous and intramuscular injections. Be warned: some medications have serious side effects. “Some of these drugs partially suppress the immune system, so we have to balance their benefits with the risk of infection,” said Reardon.
In addition to medication, there are important lifestyle modifications patients should make to improve their quality of life. “Reducing fatigue is very important, and there are steps patients can take that will give them more energy,” she said.
If stress is interfering with sleep, Reardon recommends writing down concerns in a journal before bedtime, or writing a to-do list for the next day. She also tells patients to make a realistic plan about how much they can accomplish in a day. “Everyone has a peak energy period, and for most people that’s in the morning,” said Reardon. “I recommend that people do tasks that require a lot of thought and energy in the morning.”
Although there is no proven diet to reduce symptoms of MS, Reardon recommends a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. “A protein-rich lunch is great to stimulate the mind and keep your energy going,” she said.
The Future of MS Treatment
Researchers are pursuing many avenues to understand what causes MS and how to find better treatments and prevention. “Until then, people with MS can be greatly helped by existing disease-modifying therapies,” said Reardon. “Together with your health care team, you can work to slow the disease, manage symptoms and maintain your quality of life.”
For more information on the services provided at The Madlyn Borelli Multiple Sclerosis Center at Nyack Hospital, call 845-348-8880 or click here.