MS: Health and Wellness


“Critical for MS Management and Control”

It’s the new buzz phrase for multiple sclerosis. And it’s about time it’s getting attention.

But will it get the proper messages and info out about what MS “Health and Wellness” actually is? I’ve seen the words “Diet” “Exercise” and “Emotions” as the main categories for the new Health and Wellness strategy for helping to manage MS. But there are a lot of sub-categories under each of these groups, and there is much more to Health and Wellness than just these groups.

I wrote my book three years ago (Managing MS: Straight Talk…) and listed “My Ten Commandments” as my primary way of handling my MS. Guess what? It’s about the health and wellness ways I follow to not only manage my MS, but also to control the progression of it.

t’s the other side of that coin for MS management strategies—non-medicinal vs. medicinal. A side that has been neglected or not addressed for years.

Here’s the goal for MSers: Until a cure is discovered, or restorative abilities to damaged areas are found, it is paramount that a person with MS lives with their primary goal to prevent as much damage to the nervous system as possible.


We know that MS is an autoimmune disease, and when our body is under attack by something like sickness, infection, physical or emotional injury, etc., our immune system’s army of fighter cells screw up on their job and attack our brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves instead of the foreign invaders. Attacks lead to inflammation, relapses, lesions, damage and so on.

• Major attention has to focus on keeping our immune system CALM. Good, conscientious health and wellness will keep the body’s resistance strong against those culprits that trigger activation of the immune system. Develop habits to prevent sickness, infection, injury and chronic stress. For circumstances beyond our control (e.g. a death, a catastrophe…) reach out to get as much help and support as possible.

There are many dimensions of health/wellness that include but are not limited to:

**Physical Wellness: such as sleeping, eating, and exercising properly; watching your   weight; avoiding the use of tobacco, drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption.

**Social Wellness: having healthy, positive interpersonal relationships with family, friends, pets and others.

**Spiritual Wellness: finding meaning and purpose in life. This may or may not include religion.

**Emotional Wellness: understanding our feelings and emotions and knowing action plans to follow when needed

**Intellectual Wellness: maintaining cognitive stimulation to prevent mental stagnation. It is a lifelong process of mental challenges and creativity.

All DMTs (Disease Modifying Treatments) work by suppressing, or altering, the activity of the immune system. These therapies are based on the theory that MS is, at least in part, a result of an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that causes it to attack the myelin surrounding nerves. Corticosteroids used to treat relapses also suppress the immune system.

What does this mean? When the immune system is suppressed, the body is more susceptible to infections and illness, and thus relapses. Therefore, it is imperative that all good health and wellness habits be followed. For example, if you take Solumedrol, avoid people with colds and viruses. At the first sign of a UTI infection, get on an antibiotic. You can take care of your health so that your immune system isn’t ‘triggered’ to act due to illness, etc.

• One must think of health and wellness both in the short and long term. After all, there is no cure yet and nobody knows if/when that will happen. We have one body, and we need to protect it, be proactive, and make prudent choices. For example, every drug that is taken has to be processed through the liver; what are the risks vs. benefits of any drug we take regularly after 10, 20, 30 or 40 years?

Everyone has their own stories and experiences with MS. Here’s mine:

In 1980 when my first major attack happened, I was only 25. Since there was scant literature about MS, it took a awhile to understand the disease and figure out what to do. I finally learned proper health and wellness for MS that I followed for decades and am still learning as new things emerge.

Flash forward 34 years. I just turned sixty. I never took a DMT, had only two MRI’s, quit smoking in 1987 and having been swimming 3x/week for thirty years. I weigh 115 lbs., and have perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked. Although I have been self-cathing for 28 years, both my bladder and kidneys are as good as a “normal” person’s due to good neurogenic bladder management. Meds are taken for spasticity, depression, and bladder regularly, and for sleeping/anxiety as needed. I practice yoga, deep breathing and stretching for pain and stress. Tutoring Spanish for years and reading/researching technical data surely help my cognitive function.

Yes, I am the one in four who ended up in a wheelchair, but the strength and agility in my upper body and trunk enable me to do many things independently, including driving.

Is it easy? Quite frankly, no. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, determination, and control. And now that I am starting my seventh decade of life, I am slowing down.

But I know two things. First, if I didn’t practice good health and wellness, my MS would be so much worse. Second, if/when that breakthrough for remyelination or a cure arrives, I’m in great shape for it.
Author/ MS Counselor/Living with MS


*Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at




Diets for MS?

“You are What you Eat”

February 17, 2012

For years, many different diets have been promoted to help MS. Some claim to “cure” MS; others claim to stop relapses or prevent it from progressing.

I personally never followed a specific diet, such as the Swank Diet, but I always paid attention to what and how I ate. Eating to keep my weight down and my resistance up to prevent getting sick were my priorities. What made me feel well and not necessarily tasted well also were considerations. Common sense ruled. I knew extra vitamin B’s (for the immune system), C (for my bladder) and calcium (for bones, especially since I was on steroids a couple times per year) were good for us with MS.

In my book, Managing MS: Straight Talk from a Thirty-One-Year Survivor I wrote this as one of My Ten Commandments for managing my MS:

2. Eat properly.
I follow no special diet, eat what’s good for me and avoid what’s not. Truthfully, I don’t eat a lot. Balance, variety, and quantity are key. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies (low in calories, good fiber). A mix of fish, poultry, pork, beef, pasta every week (balance of protein, omega 3, carbs…). Small meals several times a day (keeps the stomach from expanding). Very limited sauces, gravies, butter (less calories); the plainer, the better (lots of seasoning gives me gas and/or causes me to retain water). Cook, broil and grill at home—I eat out only occasionally. I always drink water, except for a mug of coffee in the morning or green tea later in the day. No dairy products (they cause bloating and nausea for me, and are binding). Instead, I take calcium, and acidophilus for ‘good’ bacteria. I don’t deprive myself of potato chips or goodies—I just put a strict limit on them. No fast food unless I’m desperate. Liquor? I’ve had a cocktail or wine many evenings for years and will not give that up! I enjoy it and deserve it. My doctor tells me to go for it, as long as it’s in moderation.

I’ve been following this regime since my early years of MS back in the 80’s. In those days, I don’t remember the tremendous focus on diets, supplements and scientific research like there is today.

Fortunately, most of what and how I eat is “correct.” Nevertheless, I find myself reading articles and studies with regard to diet and MS more and more; many of the scientific theories and findings seem logical.

There has been much buzz the past few years about Vitamin D deficiency contributing to the cause of MS and the implication for flare-ups and progression. Studies suggest this could help explain why MS is less prevalent the closer you live to the equator. There also has been attention on the negative effects of consuming milk and dairy products. Now, all this interests me personally since I grew up in Pittsburgh where there are few days of sunshine a year; I rarely drank milk or ate dairy products since I was young child. Clearly I had a Vitamin D deficiency, though I guess not consuming dairy products is supposedly a plus. Since I moved to the Phoenix area ten years ago and am always in the sun, my MS has been quite stable and so I wonder if loads of Vitamin D from the sun exposure has contributed to this.

Here are links to two sites that I would recommend taking a look at:  and

It is interesting reading. You may or may not agree with some or all of the content, but what do you have to lose? You are the best judge for yourself.

Debbie Petrina