5 Wellness Tips to Help Control Your Multiple Sclerosis

How you live makes a difference, say recent studies

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), what triggers your symptoms – numbness, muscle weakness, fatigue, blurry vision or other problems – may be a mystery. Stress can play a role. So can infections. You may always be on the lookout for ways to prevent flare-ups.

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“Patients with MS often find wellness advice online, but much of it isn’t supported by scientific evidence,” says neurologist Mary Rensel, MD. “It’s easy to become distracted by, and spend too much money on, products or behaviors that may have little or no effect on your MS.”

But more and more scientific research is identifying what truly does temper MS symptoms. Dr. Rensel, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Multiple Sclerosis Health and Wellness Initiative, has studied recent findings and turned them into wellness recommendations. She says all MS patients should have these five things:

1. A low-salt Mediterranean diet. Most studies agree that the Mediterranean diet — rich in fish, olive oil, whole grains, vegetables and nuts — is an effective anti-inflammatory diet. That makes it a wise choice if you have MS, an inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system, Dr. Rensel says. Some research indicates that a Mediterranean-style diet helps maintain brain health and may reduce the risk of MS.

Other studies have found that too much salt in your diet can trigger MS symptoms. “If you have MS, limit sodium to less than 2,000 mg a day,” Dr. Rensel says.

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2. At least 150 minutes of moderate movement per week. Regular aerobic exercise can improve fatigue from MS and potentially some brain repair functions. “I recommend that patients with MS follow the same exercise guidelines as the general population as they are able: 150 minutes of moderate movement per week,” Dr. Rensel says. “A combination of aerobic activities and stretching has helped many of my patients improve stamina and reduce MS symptoms.”

3. Vitamin D levels between 40 and 70 ng/mL. Various studies suggest a link between vitamin D and MS. People with higher levels of vitamin D are less likely to develop MS. And people with relapsing MS have lower vitamin D levels than the general population.

“The evidence isn’t clear on how much vitamin D to take, but keeping vitamin D levels in your blood between 40 and 70 ng/mL seems to help minimize disease progression in most studies,” Dr. Rensel says.

4. No smoking or tobacco products. Research shows that smokers have a higher risk of autoimmune conditions, including MS. And smokers with MS have more flare-ups and disability. “If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit,” Dr. Rensel says. “Pharmacologic aids like nicotine patches and gum, when added to behavioral programs like quit groups, can improve success rates.”

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5. Routine mental health screening. Depression is more common in people with MS. And it can worsen fatigue and cognitive function. One study directly links psychological stress to new MS brain lesions. “Screening and managing psychological conditions, including connecting patients with a mental health professional when needed, improve quality of life and MS outcomes,” Dr. Rensel says.

People with MS should see their primary care provider regularly, in addition to their neurologist, she says.

“PCPs are valuable partners in helping MS patients with these wellness recommendations,” she says.

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