I give my condition a great deal of thought and I am often struck with moments of epiphany. An “Aha!” moment (as Oprah would call it) happens when I begin to realise a new key to improving my condition and prognosis. I’m slowly figuring out how this disease works, which helps me understand how to stop it in its tracks.
There is definitely a chain of events that happens, which leads to an attack – inflammation is triggered, followed by those annoying symptoms! If you can understand the triggers, it will help prevent the symptoms. The following steps illustrates a potential explanation of why people with MS experience symptoms (also called exacerbations):
MS Symptom Trigger Sequence
Unhealthy lifestyle and medications cause ‘leaky gut syndrome’, allowing the stomach wall to become permeable
Foods the body is sensitive to are consumed
(gluten, dairy, refined sugar, legumes, heated and saturated fats, caffeine)
Undigested food particles leak through the wall of the gut and are taken into the bloodstream
The immune system is activated to attack these ‘foreign’ particles
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is made more permeable because of the consumption of saturated fat and other factors
The immune system is now in “hyper alert” and the activated immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) into the nervous system
Immune cells are now able to randomly attack the myelin sheath which they are mistaking for the food particles
The myelin sheath eventually becomes damaged, leading to signal failure for nerve messages which results in a variety of symptoms
I realise that this is a highly simplified explanation, however, it’s a good place to start learning the sequence of events (and triggers) that lead up to an episode.
It All Starts In The Gut
The health of the gut, is such an important predictor of the health of the individual. The gut is the lining of the stomach and the intestines. As you may have read on my MS Diet page, a prolonged unhealthy lifestyle coupled with the use antibiotics and other drugs can make the stomach wall more permeable. This allows undigested food particles to slither their way through the gut and into the bloodstream.
Our immune system recognises some of them as invaders and mobilises to attack. Gluten, dairy, refined sugar, legumes, heated and saturated fats and caffeine are the main culprits the body reacts against. Simply put, healthy gut = healthy person and unhealthy gut = person with bloating, wind and increased MS symptoms.
The activated immune system now gets a bit confused as to what to attack and starts attacking the myelin sheath. Here’s a quick video [1:58] showing you what it looks like visually when your immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and attack your nervous system:
How Do You Improve The Health Of Your Gut?
So, armed with a bit more understanding, we can now start to direct effort to prevent triggers that invoke this sequence of events, and the best way to do that, is to make your gut happy with a healthy MS diet:
Cut out sugar and refined foods for a start. These are lethal for your stomach lining. Have a look at the foods to avoid list on the MS diet page and start eliminating them from your MS diet.
At the same time, start adding more raw and fresh food to your MS diet. Have a look at the ‘foods to enjoy’ list on the MS diet page and start adding them to your MS diet. British nutritionist and immunologist, Jennifer Meek found that starting your cooked meals with raw vegetables prevented destruction of white blood cells which is important in maintaining a healthy immune system. Raw food is also more easily digested than cooked food and will give your stomach lining a chance to heal.
Start taking a good probiotic to make sure that there is more good than bad bacteria in your gut.
Don’t take antibiotics unless you feel you really need them. It does take a while for the delicate balance of good bacteria to return.
The Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB)
First of all, what is the blood-brain barrier (BBB)? Essentially it is a blockade of cells (membrane) separating the circulating blood from the central nervous system. It acts as a filter, preventing many substances from entering the central nervous system. It also allows important chemicals into the CNS such as oxygen, glucose and essential hormones. A healthy blood-brain barrier should not allow rogue immune cells to pass through it. However, a breach can occur in many different ways.
Dr. Swank (a famous MS diet researcher in the 1940’s, who you may well know about already) was convinced that saturated fat plays a role in the progression of MS. His research revealed that it may contribute to the erosion of the blood-brain barrier because people with MS do not process saturated fat efficiently. He goes on to say that embolisms (a clogging cell mass) of these fats form in the bloodstream and put pressure on the microcirculatory system, eventually leading to a breach in the blood-brain barrier.
He felt that cutting out saturated fat from your MS diet and replacing it with unsaturated and mono saturated oils can slow down or even halt the progression of MS. For someone on the early stages of MS, just this one dietary change has actually been shown to halt and reverse MS. I don’t want this to sound like the “cure” you have been waiting for, but it is an important point to be aware of – MS is a very complex condition, and saturated fats are just one of the factors to consider in your MS diet.
Sugar is also a culprit in the corrosion of the blood-brain barrier and must be excluded altogether or kept to a bare minimum. You need to make sure that your blood sugar level remains consistent and does not spike. When the brain is flooded by too much glucose, this can be damaging. As soon as I have eaten something sugary, I start to feel a little spaced out like my brain is being covered with a fog. It definitely reduces my clarity of thought. When I think about eating sugar now, I try and picture the damage it will do. This helps me avoid it! Refined sugar should be removed from your MS diet as far as possible.
Stress is another factor that has been shown to play a role in increasing the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Stress hormones signal our bodies to fight or take flight in a dangerous situation so they are good in the short term. However, prolonged exposure to stress hormones weakens the body and keeps hormones hanging around that shouldn’t really be there. These hormones set into action a chain of events that make the blood-brain barrier more permeable. To help you combat stress, I’ve specially written a post on this [How To Manage Your Stress, To Manage Your MS] which will provide some practical tips. So, try and minimise the stress in your life!
Tysabri – The Artificial Way To Strengthen The Blood-brain Barrier (BBB)
It is interesting to note that the disease modifying drug Tysabri works to make the blood-brain barrier impermeable to immune cells. However, there are many side effects to this medication including liver damage, nausea and depression. In fact, the full list of side effects is pretty long. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather find another way to look after my blood-brain barrier and keep it strong, healthy and impermeable.
Tips To Strengthen Your Blood-brain Barrier BBB
Lets break it down. These are some of the things you can start doing right now to increase the health of your BBB:
Cut out all saturated fat from your MS diet: This includes red meat and pork, all cooked oil, dairy products and margarine products.
Start taking an omega 3 oil supplements: This will serve to strengthen the BBB. Organic flax seed oil is the best, it’s relatively inexpensive and doesn’t taste too bad once you get used to it.
Eradicate refined foods and sugars from your MS diet: Say goodbye to biscuits, cakes, donuts and sweets. They really are not helping your cause!
Eat loads of fresh fruit and vegetables as part of your MS diet: Three chemicals: anthocyanosides, proanthnocyanidins and oligomers have been found to make the BBB more impermeable. They are present in most brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and tea. They bind with the barrier, strengthen it and are also powerful antioxidants.
Live a stress-free life as far as possible, or manage your stress effectively: Stress triggers hormones that can work against your MS diet.
Exercise regularly: Keeping active and fit helps your blood to keep nutrients moving efficiently around the body and relieves pressure on the microcirculatory system. This also keeps the blood from pooling in the venules and causing breaches in the microcirculatory system (very important!).
Summing It All Up
Interestingly, research has shown that leaky gut syndrome and permeable BBB are linked and that if you have one, you will most probably have the other. Both are these are influenced why what you eat, so this is why a healthy MS diet is critical for all MS’ers.
It’s always more motivating to know why you are doing what you are doing, and exactly how it is helping your body. Really try and picture your stomach lining becoming more healthy as you feed your body those beautifully healthy foods. Imagine your blood-brain-barrier becoming stronger and less permeable with every carrot that you juice or each exercise session that you complete. You can change the course of your disease. In the end, it all really comes down to planning and habit forming. Decide now what you are going to change in your MS diet this week, and how you are going to do it!
I really hope this increases your understanding on how important the right food is for your condition. Start with a healthy MS diet, be committed to stick to it, and you will see results.
You can do this.