Triggers

I got home from my week away tonight. Ive been trying to figure out why my MS symptoms have gotten steadily worse all week, seeming to peak today.

At first, I thought maybe it was due to the cold weather in Michigan. Cold definitely triggers a lot of pain for me. My constant MS symptom battle is “pain vs. brain”: cold weather causes me intense physical pain that doesn’t respond to any pain relief, whereas hot weather causes my cognitive symptoms to flare up to the point where I have something resembling Alzheimer’s.

But what I’m experiencing now is different. I’m not in a lot of pain and my head is somewhat clear. Instead, I’m having spasms all over. My arms are twitching and my hands are involuntarily clenching up and curling, like I’m holding on to something. My legs are also having similar spasms, with my thighs cramping up and my legs feeling too heavy to lift.

And I finally realized what the main culprits are: the stress of traveling (I had flight delays today and razor-thin margins for the layover) and the changes in my diet.

I couldn’t control much as far as the stress of the flight delays and a layover so short that I almost missed my connecting flight as a result. Fortunately, I don’t travel often, so that isn’t something I’ll deal with on a regular basis.

But my diet is a significant modifiable factor — and in fact, I learned this past week just how relatively healthy my diet usually is. It’s definitely not perfect. I usually beat myself up for the things I eat that aren’t perfect.

But I usually have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I almost never eat sugar. I very rarely drink soda. They seem like small changes and I’ve taken an incremental approach, but that does seem to be enough to make a difference.

While visiting family, I consumed a whole lot of stuff that’s not a regular part of my diet. I had ice cream three times during the week, when I usually may have it once or twice a year. I had fast food much more often than usual (or even “sit-down” restaurant food that was similar to fast food.) I ate candy. I drank soda a couple times. I regularly ate snacks like cheese curls and cookies.

I did go out of my way to get a couple of good salads with mixed greens and my parents made filet mignon and baked potatoes for my final meal with them, so I did have some healthy food. And I knew all along that my diet would be different and I was expecting it, so I was prepared for it. I could have tried harder to have a healthier diet and in truth I indulged in a lot of treats by choice.

What I didn’t expect was how much of a difference it would make in my health.

I still sometimes struggle with the idea that diet alone can “cure” MS. I don’t believe anything cures MS, and science generally backs me up on that. But diet definitely makes a difference.

If I were to eat a lot of sugar and dairy and rarely eat produce, I think my symptoms would be a lot worse for more of the time. In fact, I think my health would significantly decline.

Diet may not be a cure for MS, but I’m convinced that it is a controllable factor that can substantially alter the way you feel.

Similarly, I also know that exercise is an important factor. On the days when I don’t get at least two miles’ worth of steps as a bare minimum amount of exercise, I’m in tremendous pain the next day.

People always say diet and exercise are the answer to everything and it often gets annoying. And I think sometimes people get a little too overzealous about it. But to be honest, diet and exercise really are the biggest factors in good health.

Diet and exercise may not cure MS — or cancer, for example — but it’s a lot harder to fight those conditions when your diet and exercise are poor. It can be hard to get started but once you do and then maintain the habits, it becomes easier to stick to them.

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