Why did you decide to go?
Last summer a friend at my local MS Therapy Centre had lent me ‘Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis’, by Professor George Jelinek; a doctor with the condition. I was impressed by what he had written, not only because it was written for the lay person but, because he was speaking from the combination of experience and medical knowledge. He ran an MS retreat in Australia and I remember thinking that it would be a long way to go for a week’s retreat.
It was when my neurologist said that I had probably got secondary progressive MS, and that I would shortly need hand controls to drive, that I thought it was time to take some action. I remembered a phrase in the book, ‘whatever it takes’ and that’s when I made up my mind to go to the retreat in Australia. With just a few weeks to go I booked one of the last two places on the retreat and a flight out there.
What did I find when I got there?I was allocated a dormitory bed with seven other women with varying degrees of disability, from fully ambulant, to me - walking with two sticks.
The retreat is dedicated to providing you with all the information that you need to manage the condition and there are several sessions with George Jelinek giving the ‘science’ in a very digestible and understandable way. It also directly addressed the food issue by only offering a whole-food, plant based (vegan) diet, along with meditation. After three days I felt more mobile and was joining in with the Qi Gong, standing (un-aided) on the grass, rather than sitting.One of the first things that I recorded was that the influential risk factors in MS are 24% genetic; but 76% environmental, which would suggest that we have more opportunities to dictate how the disease affects us that we thought.
These are the interventions that we can make, in addition to those suggested by doctors.Interventions
1. Diet - Plant based, whole food, essentially a vegan diet plus seafood
2. Omega 3
3. Sunlight and vitamin D
His evidence based approach to MS is this:
1. Diet. Do not have fats with a high melting point; in other words all animal and saturated fats. This includes animal milks. Cows’ milk protein resembles myelin oligodendrocytes, so the body tries to attack all milk proteins; in fact; MS epidemiology follows cows’ milk consumption around the world and the beer, batter, butter cultures (mainly western) have a higher incidence of ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
As the cartoon character Garfield says, ‘Diet is die with a t’. Perhaps, our Western diet is guilty of helping that.
2. Essential fatty acids, (EFA’s), the Omega 3 oils, (flaxseed, etc). They are known anti-depressants, as well as being essential in the building of cells. Make sure you are getting 17-23 grams per day of these oils.
3. Vitamin D/Sunlight. Perhaps we have overdone the ‘cover-up in the sun’ message. We need it. Full body exposure for 15-20 minutes (in warm southern hemisphere weather) 3 -5 times per week was recommended. In the northern hemisphere we need to adjust accordingly, and in the winter months make sure that you are getting a minimum of 5000 IU of vitamin D per day; get your vitamin D levels checked. There should be a minimum of 150 nanomils per litre of blood.
4. Meditation. I laughed and said that it was all a bit ‘dippy hippy’; but, really, who cares? If it makes us feel calmer and helps us to be nicer people, as well as healthier why would anyone object to it? Find a space to do it for a minimum of ½ an hour a day, in two tranches or in one. It has helped me to be less critical and judgemental; which has released me from some of the stress that I was putting on myself.
5. Exercise - The benefits are various and well-known, but make sure that it is vigorous exercise, if you are able. Swimming is good, (particularly outside, as you get vitamin D at the same time); some people jog; I have taken up rowing, (adaptive boats have extra floats so it is less likely to capsize).
What did I learn?
· I learned focus – it’s very easy to become ‘busy’ with things that really aren’t important; to ‘acquire things’ which are not helpful to the management of your illness, but create distress.
· I learned self-determination, which started with my decision to go to the retreat.
· I learned calmness and directness. It’s no good being vague about what you are doing, either to yourself or to your friends and family. Be very clear about your intentions and your reasons for them.
OMS (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis) will have a stand at the MS Life Exhibition in Manchester 14th-15th April – those of us who have been on the retreat will be there to tell visitors all about it.