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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Trouble With Lifestyle Changes....

If you have had MS like I have for years, you cannot miss the never-ending barrage of advertisements, blogs, books, and products touting the "lifestyle change" management of MS. I am talking about those individuals who promote lifestyle changes of all kinds: Diet, exercise, and supplements primarily, as treatments and/or cures for multiple sclerosis.

I am focusing on this topic because I am disturbed by some of these claims, as a health professional. Many of these individuals have no medical training at all, but a few have a great deal of training. I'm not sure what motivates these individuals, but I don't believe they are trying to harm anyone. The problem is, sometimes they DO.

The way prescription treatments are created is through a scientific, data-oriented study model. This model requires years and years of study, beginning in the lab, progressing to animal studies, then to human trials over a great deal of time. The 12 disease modifying drugs were developed during a course of strenuous scientific research, with the top minds in the world putting tremendous effort into the various phases of testing. They were approved by the FDA, and found to be effective over a long period of time.

The trouble with supplements or alternative therapies sold as "treatments," is that these therapies have not ever been proven with scientific data. If they had, why would we not be using them? Some will argue that "Big Pharma" is in charge, manipulating and controlling these drugs, milking MS patients for lifetimes of money in exchange for drugs. This may be partially true, but this is the unfortunate system we have in place. Big Pharma may indeed be making a killing on MS drugs, but that does not discount their efficacy. These drugs do indeed work, and it has been proven over and over.

There is no diet that has ever been proven to treat MS. Not the paleo diet, the Atkins diet, the Swank diet, or Dr. Wahl's diet. Unfortunately, these diets have only led to frustration for many patients. The concept that diet can reduce or even "cure" MS symptoms is simply incorrect from a scientific standpoint at this point in time. This way of thinking causes MS patients who are progressing to feel that they are at fault. "If only you had eaten the right things you would be fine" is an attitude that is damaging and depressing. It inflicts harm on patients who have tried and failed with these dietary changes. Now, maybe years down the road, after years of scientific study, this viewpoint may change.

HMOs and insurers of all types focus on reducing costs and using less treatment rather than more treatment. They aim to spend less money on medication for patients, rather than more. Insurers would, in a heartbeat- recommend dietary changes over the current 50,000$-60,000$ per year expense of MS drugs if these diets were proven. Think of the cost savings for all HMOs! Why would they ever pay for medication when a simple diet change would do the trick? The answer is: They would not. The problem is, there is no data to show these diets work.


Supplements are a dangerous road. The entire supplement industry is unregulated, untested, and unproven. They do not have to follow the rigorous guidelines that FDA approved prescription drugs follow. Anyone can literally hang a shingle, open a shop, and sell "dietary supplements" that claim to do all sorts of wonderful things. These are not proven, effective treatments, no matter what anyone claims. The other danger is financial: These products are, at the very least- a waste of money. At the very worst, they may be outright dangerous. Who knows? They have not been tested.

This is not to say that a healthy, well balanced diet, lots of exercise, and a generally healthy lifestyle is unwise. Following the basic guidelines for living a healthy life is good advice for anyone, not just MS patients. All of us would feel better generally if we get some activity, avoid high fat, high sugar diets, avoid smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs. These basic lifestyle changes are beneficial, but they certainly won't cure your MS.

Other than our 12 disease modifying drugs, we have no other information about effective MS treatments at this point in time. Studies are always ongoing, and alternative treatments may prove themselves over the course of time. Buyer and patient beware: Your provider knows best. Do your research. Do not ever try an alternative treatment unless you get the okay from your neurologist or other treating provider. There are unlimited numbers of scam artists just waiting to prey on defenseless MS patients and our desperation for a cure. 

If you would like more information on the American Academy of Neurology's statement on Alternative therapies, go to: https://www.aan.com/Guidelines/Home/GetGuidelineContent/644
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