Lifestyle Research Points the Way to Wellness

This past week’s ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS Joint Meeting brought together nearly 9,000 people — most of them researchers — from across the globe to share results and make connections with others who want to find solutions for multiple sclerosis. In addition to presentations and training courses, the gathering featured an incredible number of posters — more than 1,000 — each one representing research that has the potential to change the lives of people with MS.

Poster sessions give a group of researchers the opportunity to present their work in a condensed format, literally on a 5-foot by 3-foot sheet of poster paper tacked to a board. Each poster outlines the scientists’ methods and outcomes with text and graphics.

Walking through hallways swathed with hundreds and hundreds of studies, I wanted to know: what did the posters have to say about how to live a better life with MS right now? I was particularly curious about diet and exercise, and I felt like Peter Piper picking a peck of posters. Which poster should I pick?

The first poster I chose highlighted a study of people with relapsing-remitting MS who followed a low-fat, plant-based diet for one year. Because there’s emerging interest in whether nutrition and obesity influences MS disease progression, the proposed diet was very low in saturated fat. It focused on starch — lots of potatoes, corn, rice, beans, pasta, oats, fruits and vegetables, and no meat, fish or dairy.

The people who followed the diet reported a significant decrease in MS-related fatigue at the end of the year, and significantly less fatigue than a control group of people with MS who didn’t follow the diet. The Oregon researchers concluded that this approach is worth further investigation.

The next poster I visited linked salt consumption and increased disease activity in MS. The study, a collaboration between the Raúl Carrea Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, suggested that a higher salt intake puts people with MS at greater risk for new lesions and more relapses.

This study jives with earlier research that points to the possibility that dietary salt may stimulate the activity of key immune cells involved in MS attacks.

Finally, I spent time with a poster from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that explored aerobic fitness and hippocampal volume in MS. The hippocampus — a curved structure in the brain shaped like a seahorse — transforms new information into long-term memory.

Novel evidence showed an association between aerobic fitness and hippocampal volume. This work provides a stronger basis for examining aerobic exercise training as an approach for delaying or reversing shrinkage of the hippocampus in MS, which is exciting news for people with MS who struggle with memory loss.

It’s no surprise that research from the world’s largest MS meeting is telling us to eat our vegetables, cut back on the chips and get some exercise. But it’s possible that these lifestyle changes could lead to meaningful long-term effects: less fatigue, decreased disease activity and improved memory — all of which can help people with MS live their best lives.

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Anna Kucera

Anna Kucera is the marketing and public relations director for the National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter.

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  • LisaP   Sep 16, 2014 1:56 PM
    Lifestyle Research Points the Way to Wellness... this is soooo true!
    While I know that my medication is mostly responsible for the way that I feel today, my whole body feels so much better when I workout regularly and follow a clean diet.
  • Danielle R   Sep 16, 2014 2:15 PM
    I believe all of those findings to be true. I can say without a doubt the cleaner I eat and more exercise and activity I incorporate, the better I feel-both physically and mentally. I have noticed a huge difference in my fatigue over the past year and I credit it to these changes.
  • Karen Bewick   Sep 16, 2014 5:02 PM
    I am pleased that exercise is now encouraged for people with MS, including mine (PP). I was given a lot of fatigue management advice in the early 2000s and that did not allow much time for exercise. I now use a power chair and climb onto my exercycle when I feel I can, to exercise as much as I feel I can but I spend a lot of time in my chair. That sitting in a chair for hours each day concerns me a lot. Any ideas for better management? Way to keep heart health, muscle health with poorly functioning legs?
  • Eva Marsh   Sep 17, 2014 5:52 AM
    Hello Anna, I am glad that the system is moving in this direction! I have been sharing research on repair of myelin with movement for 47 years!! I am now 70 and active after several episodes of disabling symptoms.
  • Lisha Deal   Sep 17, 2014 6:25 AM
    I am coming up on my the 2 year of MS diagnosis. The first year was a total mess, with learning about this disease and how to cope. This second year I have started swimming again and I can do so much more. Exercise is definitely helped!
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    refusetoquit  Sep 17, 2014 6:28 PM
    Karen, my idea of exercise has changed with my MS. Being in a chair concerned me, also. All that's necissary is MOVEMENT.........ATM.....ATTENTION THROUGH MOVEMENT. Another way to put it, The Feldenkrais Method...........look it up.......recently, it was recognized at a Physc's Conference for MS. I always say, 'It's the 'no excuse' not to exercise.........keeps blood circulating with gentle movement. Side note>>>The Wahls Protocol in nutrition, worries in diet and exercise are minimal. Hope this helps, as it did me..........
  • Mary Ellen Ziliak   Sep 18, 2014 5:06 AM
    After 16 years with RRMS I've come to fully appreciate a holistic approach to living my life well with MS in it. Good to see diet and exercise supported.
  • Gina   Sep 18, 2014 7:05 AM
    I had years of sleepless nights until I read the association between salt and it's adverse affects. I cut as much as humanly possible and now sleep. My "jimmy leg" doesn't keep me up all night. Salt is in everything from deli meats to salad dressing. It's crazy how many things are laden with salt. I also exercise daily it has been described as something you do, like brushing your teeth. It's not an option to make room for it.
  • Jeannie Felton   Sep 18, 2014 8:50 AM
    I live with (what the neurologists and MS specialist that diagnosed me) is an atypical form of MS. I easily qualify clinically. Fatigue is my #1 disabling symptom. Since your reported looking at diet and exercise, I thought I would share my most recent experience. Back in May I started going to a CrossFit gym twice a week with my son-in-law as my personal trainer. His mother also had MS. (She's in heaven now) David and I have been working together to strengthen my muscles from head to toe. I have made amazing progress in this short time. We can't fix the neurological piece that causes fatigue, but I can now walk farther, stand longer, and use my power chair less. Woohoo! Just this week I changed my eating habits to exclude grains, sugar, and most refined foods with added "garbage" in them. I have no doubt that this new way of eating is going to help me feel and live better. There are lots of different healthy versions of eating out there, I am using a modified version of the Paleo Diet. I'm doing the modifying with the help of my GI doc's nurse, and other people's input, along with my own good judgement. In other words, like you said, I am eating healthy. If you want to know how this way of eating is working for me, I'll send you an update in a few months when I know better myself!
  • northwesternviews  Sep 19, 2014 9:05 AM
    Thanks for your passion . Together a cure will be found
  • Avatar
    bellabueno77  Sep 19, 2014 9:54 AM
    I miss the exercise exercise so much i used to walk two miles a day. Fifty squats crunches loved it...over the last nine months i can barely walk to my mailbox without feeling winded or exacerbated. My chest feels like it's bring squeezed, my legs burn. My body is just off right now. Actually off balance too. I'm going to look into tai chi and yoga so as not to over heat or over exert my body,but i truly do miss that rush i used to get from my workouts. I miss the old me a lot sometimes. I stay hopeful I'm gonna find my way in the new me.