Brain Lesions, and Vertigo, and Eczema: Buh-Bye. (Versus Lions, and Tigers, and Bears: Oh My.)

For the full decade before diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2003 by the National Institutes of Health, I had severe eczema, which is officially unrelated to MS but which I believe was the introductory performance of inflammation prior to the debut of my MS. My dermatologists (plural) had no solutions. I had no choice but to look for my own.

I was diagnosed with MS at age 31 and took the first of two injectable MS drugs religiously from that day. For the following seven years, I had numbness on my torso, legs, and feet. I also had walking problems, otherwise known as gait fatigue, and one of the most common symptoms of MS. I lost sight in each eye on different occasions. In 2009, I developed vertigo (the earth spinning rapidly) for three days at a time, with maybe one day of normalcy, followed by another three days of vertigo, and so on. I took Dramamine to get through my days. No doctors (neurologists, plural) knew what to do, but one doctor diagnosed me with Meniere’s Disease and prescribed several pharmaceuticals. I never took those drugs; it just didn’t seem logical. How many prescription drugs can one person take?

Throughout these several years, I took annual MRIs (also monthly MRIs for a full year, as part of an NIH study participant), and each one was more depressing, with new and “enhancing” [not good] lesions in my spine and brain. I attended a support group organized by the National MS Society, which provided no useful recommendations about what *I* could do; we talked a lot about the side effects and annoyances of injectable medicine. And a lot of people were crying. My last MRI, before reading about the connection between diet and disease, was in 2010.

There are a lot of ideas about curing MS on the internet. While I loved stories from fellow MS-diagnosed people, I needed something deeply rooted in scientific evidence, and my doctors only pointed me to research funded by drug companies. In 2011, I found the books Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) and The China Study in a desperate search for some hope on Amazon. Both made complete sense to me because they are both based in scientific research conducted over decades. After a lifetime of eating total and complete junk and being a workaholic (sedentary, with the occasional marathon), I changed cold-turkey, pun intended, to a whole foods, plant based (WFPB) diet on Thanksgiving 2011. So many of my symptoms improved at that time — vertigo disappeared (until four years later, when I got lazy in my wellness routine; it disappeared again quickly after I got back on the rails). Eczema cleared beautifully.

For better or worse, I stopped getting annual MRIs until 2015 because I was feeling so strong. I already had proof that the WFPB diet was working, and simply was traveling a lot for work — blissfully unfocused on my health. At that time, I decided to stop my injectable MS drugs, which is a controversial decision, but a decision I made nevertheless. My neurologist objected with thinly veiled disdain and a touch of anger. I want to believe that he cared about me, but I have some doubts.

In 2015, I got my first MRI since starting a WFPB diet in 2011, and it showed that my lesions had not only stopped enhancing, but some lesions had totally disappeared, and I had no new lesions compared with the 2010 MRI. My neurologist did not congratulate me or attribute this result to anything specific. In 2017, same results on my annual MRI, and my neurologist said, “keep doing what you are doing.” In 2018, same thing.

More and more research is demonstrating that diet and disease are connected, but my approach to managing MS is not endorsed by many neurologists in the Washington, DC area, or any neurologists that I have found. I have never been a renegade; I have always colored inside the lines. So to say that I was uncomfortable disagreeing with Board-certified medical doctors is putting it very mildly. I was a deer in the headlights for many years, because the standard prescription was not working. My health was declining rapidly, and the prognosis was bad.

Yet, after adopting so-called alternative approaches, strongly based in scientific evidence collected by respectable institutions, my personal experience has built my confidence. Since 2015, I have said goodbye to lesions in my brain and spine, vertigo, and eczema. While I would never be as audacious as to say that my MS is harmless or cured, I no longer feel helpless. I have hope – based on evidence – that my daily choices influence my outcome.

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