I taught a one day workshop on Eating Well to Live in Balance with MS this past weekend in Calgary. I have been in stable remission for eight plus years, living with MS, which I believe I have had since I was 21 years old (I only know this in hindsight). What I have learned in my 25 years with a lot of help and resources from individuals coping with this disease, that it is possible to live in balance with this condition and actually thrive, despite having it. It has been my greatest teacher. If you read some of my earlier blogs when I was in the trenches of healing, it was a real challenge at the time, I had to battle a lot of things and faced some difficult and painful flares; but ultimately, I began to find myself… opening from within and starting to discover my true self
Because I am a naturopathic doctor and pride myself on walking my talk, I was able to live a long time with this condition and not know, that there was something wrong with me. It was only when I was training for my second marathon and carbo loaded with a lot of gluten that the symptoms appeared in a big way (I was 33 years old). Before this time, I had largely avoided wheat because I thought it gave me acne. I had unknowingly protected myself, by avoiding wheat for many years. There is now a known connection between autoimmune disease and gluten sensitivity because it triggers zonulin which opens the tight junctions in the intestines and thus contributes to intestinal permeability (one of the three factors that underlies autoimmune disease).
In this workshop, I discussed the importance of limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 20 grams, even better if it is kept under 15 or 10 grams per day. We can thank the brilliant Dr. Swank for discovering one of the most important factors to help us stay healthy and limit progressive decline. This was one factor that I was not always 100% perfect with in my past. I did not realize that having one single meal over the saturated fat limit could set me back. Now that I know that, I am much more confident in maintaining control over my health. Before I used to have a ‘rich’ meal out on special occasions. The last one that I remember coincided with a flare, unfortunately. I remember feeling particularly happy that weekend. I had gone to Radium hot springs with my boyfriend and another couple. We had a great time. I even sat in the hot pools with little after effect of the submersion. I went for a fatty brunch on the last day and ate sausage and greasy eggs. I think I even consumed a gluten wrap the day before. Three days later, I began to feel poorly and had a bad flare.Now that I realize I can not even eat one meal too rich in saturated fat, I am feeling stable and back to my healthy self.
Another thing I taught this weekend, was besides avoiding gluten and dairy (which again trigger zonulin and contribute to permeability in your gut), was the importance of avoiding sugar. I have craved fats not sugars, so this is one vice that is not hard to avoid now. There was a time when I ate a lot more sugar and that was in university. I am sure that consuming more sugar contributed to my intestinal permeability, as well. Interestingly enough, the microbiome of patients that have MS, has shown a preference for fostering bacteria that digest sugar. This is not a good thing and is another reason to avoid sugar at all costs. It will help your MS if you completely avoid sugar. Bacteria that produce inflammatory compounds and contribute to immune dysregulation have also been shown to be present in the microbiome of MS patients.
Probiotic bacteria are known to induce immunomodulating activity in the gut and help regulate inflammation. Probiotics help increase production of butyrate, an anti-inflammatory substance. T regulatory cells induced in the gut may suppress inflammatory conditions. Lactobacillus paracasei and lactobacillus plantarum induce T regulatory cells. Probiotic bacteria may help in the treatment of MS. Some strains may be more helpful than others and there is much more research to be done.