This article is part of a series; for the rest of the series, visit Food and MS.
Does nutrition play a part in our well-being and general health? The World Health Organization thinks it does, and even Medicare recognizes the importance of nutrition for some conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the importance of diet and nutrition."Better nutrition is a prime entry point to ending poverty
and a milestone to achieving better quality of life."
Healthy children learn. Healthy people, being strong and productive, create opportunities and are therefore able to break the cycle of poverty and hunger.
In 2002, Medicare and Medicaid implemented a revised Medical Nutritional Therapy (MNT) policy that allows dietitians and nutritionists to be considered Medicare providers and be reimbursed for services provided. These benefits are payable only for diabetes and renal disease because "Both conditions cause damage to other parts of the body if not controlled."
Admitting that eating right is important for people with chronic illnesses, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said, "By covering nutrition therapy, Medicare is helping beneficiaries lead healthier lives and avoid more serious illnesses and complications that can result from inappropriate diet."
Many other conditions may be affected by diet, but have been overlooked for reimbursement. Even the retail food industry has adopted the idea of a "heart healthy" diet. Maybe Medicare and other standard insurance programs will one day include nutrition therapy as valid for these other conditions as well. Surely some of these other chronic conditions may lead to "complications that can result from inappropriate diet."
A significant number of MSers have been found to have nutritional deficit. A major research project would add needed legitimacy to the role of nutrition in MS management. Nutritional research has been largely overlooked, and a conclusion about the nutrition-MS relationship requires study and research. I found a campaign for research on diet and MS that includes a petition ready for signatures.
There are many minerals and vitamins important to the MS diet, but let's look at a few favorite important ones:
- Magnesium - Many symptoms of magnesium deficiency are also symptoms of MS, such as spasms, rapid eye movement, and osteoporosis. MSers are often found with low magnesium levels when compared with people who do not have MS. A diet high in glutens results in low magnesium levels. Remember many diets made specifically for MS are gluten free.
- Vitamin D - MSers have often been found to have low levels of vitamin D. Increasing vitamin D levels, either with sunlight or supplements, has been found to reduce the chance of relapses. Of course, the problem with getting it from sunlight is that heat saps energy, so be careful. Your doctor can monitor levels through blood tests.
- Fish and Fish Oil supplements - Besides adding more vitamin D, fish oils act as immune modulators, balancing the body's inflammation. Inflammation leads to progression.
- Vitamin B12 - Vitamin B12 deficiencies and MS have similar symptoms, such as weakness, walking problems, vision difficulties, memory loss and fatigue. More people with MS have Vitamin B12 deficiencies than people without MS. It is low in cerebrospinal fluids rather than in blood. Lack of Vitamin B12 affects not only the myelin, but the axon under it. It may cause fatigue, depression, and even brain damage. These supplements can be taken orally, but I was given weekly shots. It is especially important for vegetarians to supplement their diets.
Some people with MS have deficits or low levels of more than one of these vitamins.
Although medical schools teach nutrition, 60% of med schools did not meet minimum requirements in the past. Patients consistently relied on their doctors for nutrition advice, but there was little foundation for that until the 1990s. The modern trend is to make nutrition a more substantial part of medical school. Education, in medical schools including Harvard Medical School, Brown, and UT Southwestern, is moving toward establishing nutrition as a medical discipline
As the health industry moves toward including nutrition as important in overall health, more doctors will be trained in nutrition as well as medication, surgery, and other therapy programs. Hopefully, insurances, including Medicare, will soon recognize and cover nutrition therapy for chronic conditions including MS.
I am convinced diet affects my MS, and probably many other conditions, too. Nutrition does more than simply make us feel better and may actually change the course of a disease. That makes life significantly better. Controlling your diet may mean better control of your life, but remember, it's not only the food. The right food should be accompanied by the right attitude.
Next I will talk more about food and supplements that improve MS, and I will highlight Internet sites that provide updated information on this topic.