At the time of diagnosis, most patients are told that the absolute cause of MS and a cure are unknown. Hearing this makes most people feel a bit out of control concerning living with this disease. The reality is, however, that there are factors we know to enhance your health and to improve your quality of life. Knowing what some of these are gives you back some of that control and helps you to move forward by making some lifestyle modifications. We call that “control” empowerment and it truly allows you to make positive changes that will make a difference in your life.
All of us could be at risk for several significant health problems; Heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and cancer. Many of these risks can be modified. By us.
Some of these risks cannot be changed; age, gender, family history, race and previous medical history.
Facing a diagnosis of a chronic disease such as MS, it makes sense to do all you can do to prevent the illnesses that are preventable. In addition, be aware of those environmental factors that may play a role in your MS and make adjustments in them as possible. We strongly urge people diagnosed to be on a disease modifying therapy as early in the disease as possible. Beyond that, you have some control over what you do.
Take control of THINKING
Often times our thinking goes into overdrive thinking about what we cannot control and this “background noise” of worry distracts during the day and can interrupt sleep. Work to overcome this “brain chatter” by focusing on plans and activities within your control such as are discussed below. Activities including practicing muscle relaxation, meditation or guided imagery also can be very useful.
Take control of EXERCISE:
Exercise is one of the interventions that have positive effects to prevent heart disease, obesity, strokes and elevated blood pressure. Did you know that exercise has strong effects on living well with MS? Movement in exercise can be beneficial to both body and mind. In addition, there is increasing evidence that it can improve brain function to improve physical and cognitive abilities. Consider exercise to be as important as any other prescription that could be written for your MS.
Take control of WEIGHT:
In MS, being underweight or overweight can be problematic. Learning how to manage either will be helpful for your overall wellness management. If either of these problems is yours, ask your provider for a referral to a dietician for help. Exercise will help with either as well.
Did you know that a recent study was done that showed that obesity in girls put them at higher risk for developing MS later? So if you have female siblings or children and you have MS, their risk is slightly higher for developing MS anyway. Being an obese girl may increase that risk. That is something you can help take control of.
Take control of ALCOHOL:
Alcohol use will not worsen MS. It will, however, affect how you function and can lead to an increase in balance problems, cognitive problems and sleep problems. In addition, alcohol mixed with many of the medications used for MS can have an additive effect. Beware.
Take control of SMOKING:
For a person who has MS, smoking increases the rate at which MS progresses from relapsing remitting to secondary progressive. It is also thought that smoking may be a risk factor for developing MS so if you are in a family where MS exists, your risk is somewhat higher and smoking may increase it further. A recent study questioned if the increase in smoking in young women and the increase in MS in females vs. males may be related. Food for thought. Second hand smoke is as dangerous as direct smoke.
Work on your COMMUNICATION SKILLS
As you work to take control of your health and limit the impact of MS it is important to communicate your goals and plans with your family and loved ones. Help them understand why you are making these choices and encourage their support. Because communication is a two way process, be sure to listen to your friends and loved ones about their thoughts on making these important changes.
Learn about VITAMIN D
There is increasing evidence that Vitamin D plays a role in our immune function and may have an effect on MS as well as other immune diseases. It is increasingly evident that lower levels of Vitamin D are seen in many people with MS and this level decreases over time. Geographically, it has been evident that those living nearer the equator have less MS than those living further away from it. Exposure to sunlight as well as increased intake of Vitamin D may be beneficial in preventing MS and perhaps, in those who have MS, having a positive impact on MRI activity. While there is still much we have yet to learn, evaluating our Vitamin D levels may be an important first step.
Osteoporosis is a risk for many as we age. People who are sedentary, who use corticosteroids frequently, who fail to consume foods high in Calcium, and who are also low in Vitamin D have a higher risk. Many people with MS fall into this category. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures and decreased function and pain. This can be prevented with exercise, weight management, and appropriate diet and/or supplementation with Calcium and Vitamin D. It is recommended that you discuss supplementation amounts with your provider as Calcium can have other effects in your body.
Continue to learn about MS and the effects of the environment on it. This knowledge will enhance your abilities to maintain some control over the impact of MS on you and your lifestyle.
Click here to get even more great tips on this topic by viewing our archived webinar on Environmental Factors: How To Influence The World Around You