For two decades now, whenever I start to tell my “MS story”, I always begin with the movie theater incident. The movie theater incident was the official beginning of my MS journey. It was the summer of 1998 and I had been getting recurring bladder infections for months. Just prior to leaving my house to see the movie the Horse Whisperer, I was certain I was getting another bladder infection and so I force drank as much cranberry juice as I could get down because somebody told me cranberry juice would help bladder infections (By the way, today I would know better than to drink 16 ounces of sugar water for the purpose of preventing a bladder infection or any other infection, but this was in the days before I knew anything about clean eating!)
I don’t believe in coincidences though and I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I had my first major MS attack in the middle of watching the movie the Horse Whisperer. It was only recently that I got the idea to watch the full movie and I’m glad I listened to my littler inner voice that said to do so. If you make it through the end of this blog post, you’ll understand why I now believe there was a reason that the Horse Whisperer was the movie I first got sick in. I’m certain it was fate.
As you will read on, the Horse Whisperer had a message of love and hope that I didn’t even know about until I watched the full movie just recently. But I now realize both love and hope have played a key role in my healing all along. Yes, I have incorporated many, many holistic healing elements into my MS recovery plan, but I don’t believe I could have gotten well had it not been for having a foundation of love and hope (more on that in a bit…)
“Coincidence is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous” —-Albert Einstein
My First Big MS Attack
It was while watching the Horse Whisperer that I experienced what to this date remains the single most terrifying experience that I could remember in my life; I had a completely full bladder but when I went to the ladies room I couldn’t go a single drop. I still can’t even put into words how horrific that experience was for me. I knew in that instant that something horrible was happening within my body. Just like the life changing accident the horse and the girl (Scarlett Johansson) had in the Horse Whisperer movie, the trajectory of my life changed right then and there in the bathroom of the same Palm Beach Gardens Loehman’s Plaza movie theater I had been going to my whole life.
And just like the terror that so visibly shot through the horse and the girl in the Horse Whisperer movie after the accident, the same terror shot through me. I knew my body was turning on me and I simply didn’t have the tools to handle it at the time. In fact, I think my inability to calm myself down only acted to exacerbate the situation and make it far worse. I was in a complete and inconsolable panic.
Looking back, I realize now that my life story could have taken a dark, sad and possibly short end, but little did I know my life was really just beginning. One door (I call it the “health without trying” door) was closing, but another door (true love and a true purpose), was opening…
The Emergency Room Visit
Within an hour of the terrifying bathroom incident, I was admitted to the Jupiter hospital emergency room. I would leave without a diagnosis, wearing a catheter. I knew full well something was very wrong. And somehow I had a gut instinct that it was not going to be an easy fix.
Within a few days my right leg was numb and I lost so much strength in my right hip flexor that it was difficult to walk up the stairs. A week later I was at the University of Miami hospital, still wearing the catheter, where after an extensive workup, world renowned neurologist, William Sheremata, M.D., would sit me and my parents in his office and tell us that I was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease of the central nervous system, for which there is no cure at present. As my neurologist rattled off some of the symptoms, including loss of vision, inability to swallow, trouble walking, problems with balance, numbness and tingling, etc. it seemed like my entire world was turning upside down. To me, the worst of all was the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to walk and could very well end up in a wheelchair.
At that stage in my life I would have rather not be alive than be in a wheelchair (I should emphasize that thanks to an incredibly strong spiritual foundation that I only developed in the last few years, today I would now want to live even if I was in a wheelchair, but I am sad, embarrassed and ashamed to say that was not the case 20 years ago.) When I finally sat down to watch the movie the Horse Whisperer, I immediately connected and understood on every level the terror that both the horse (Pilgrim) and his rider (Scarlett Johansson) experienced during their horrific accident scene early in the movie. If you Google the definition of the word “Trauma” you’ll see it is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. That’s an understatement for how I would describe the bathroom incident. I know people go through far worse, but for me it was both emotionally and physically traumatic. The terror I felt was in fact justified though because had I not been able to get to an emergency room, the incident could have even been deadly (you can develop sepsis, a life threatening condition, if you can’t empty your bladder). In other words, even though I did not have the medical background to know how serious the incident was, my body knew. I was terrified beyond words.
I now believe that my reaction to the bladder incident (which was the exact opposite of calm) just made the situation so much worse on every possible level. Not only was I unable to empty my bladder, I was simultaneously giving myself a panic attack with my thoughts. I now understand that your thoughts affect your emotions and your emotions impact how every cell in your body reacts to stress. I would like to think that if something like that ever happens to me again I will have more tools in my toolbox and will be able to handle the situation better. Beyond prayer, one tool is simply to breathe. I didn’t even know the power of the breath when I was twenty two.
Anyway, I know I am getting a little side-tracked here, but I do think it is important to emphasize the power our thoughts have on our body as a whole. There are not very many things we can control in this world other than our thoughts and actions and multiple sclerosis has taught me that controlling my thoughts and actions is absolutely a factor in whether I will stay healthy or not. And what I mean by that is that I have to consciously choose positive thoughts daily and I have to consciously make healthy lifestyle choices on a consistent basis. If I do not do those two things, I can feel my body start to betray me again. It’s just the way it is.
My Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Options
Back to my story…
On the day my neurologist, Dr. Sheremata, gave me my MS diagnosis he also gave me three options for how to manage my disease:
1) Begin one of the disease modifying FDA-approved medications (back then there were less than a handful)
2) Enter a clinical trial for a medication that was not yet FDA-approved (in other words, be a guinea pig)
3) Begin an anti-inflammatory diet (specifically, Dr. Sheremata recommended the Swank Diet for MS, which was outlined in the Swank Diet Book by neurologist Roy Swank, M.D.) I talk more about the anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense Multiple Sclerosis diet I follow below, but in addition to diet my doctor also emphasized the importance of reducing stress and adding resistance training exercise, he specifically recommended yoga and swimming. I still vividly remember Dr. Sheremata telling me that the Swank Diet had been studied in real-life MS patients and that after a period of five years, study patients who followed his diet functioned better than when they were first diagnosed with MS. After twenty years, most of the control-group patients were unable to walk, whereas the typical Swank patient was fully mobile and experiencing only mild symptoms. I can compare the effect of hearing about the success of other MS patients who had success following the special diet to the 4-minute mile phenomenon —once runners heard that Roger Bannister had done what was previously thought to be impossible, run a 4 minute mile, they believed they could do it too. Just hearing that other MS patients had controlled their symptoms for TWENTY YEARS made me believe I could do it too. The Swank diet gave me tremendous hope. And when it comes to healing your body, hope matters. It matters a lot.
It’s a long story, and I discuss it all in greater detail in our various books, but in a nutshell I decided to go with the diet option because it just made the most sense and it was the only option that not only didn’t have side effects, but could potentially even offer side benefits! At that time I desperately wanted to have children (I now have an incredibly healthy 18-year old son) and the medications were contraindicated during pregnancy, which was a major factor in my decision to not go the medical route right away.
I admit, there was a small part of me that didn’t fully believe the diet would work, but there was another part of me, that somehow knew it would. I don’t know if I would have been able to have that same “knowing” unless the recommendation came from someone as renowned as Dr. Sheremata. However, Dr. Sheremata was well-known for not giving everyone the same treatment plan and to this day I do not have an explanation for why he did not tell all of his patients about the diet (Dr. Sheremata has since passed away so I am not able to ask him directly.) I don’t fully understand his reasoning for not telling all of his patients about the diet, but I will be eternally grateful that he told me.
The diet is what gave me hope. And since I am being fully honest, I can tell you right now that if I had not been given hope from day 1, things would be very different in my life today. Without question, hope was an essential element in my healing journey from day 1.
I talk a bit more about my how I made the decision to start with diet changes in this CBS Dallas interview:
“He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything.” —Arabian proverb.
Dr. Roy L. Swank’s research on multiple sclerosis dates back to 1948, long before modern disease-modifying MS drugs were available. Over the course of a nearly fifty-year career, neurologist Dr. Roy Swank worked directly with thousands of MS patients, and his low-animal fat diet has been proven to reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups in MS patients.
The current edition of Dr. Swank’s book, published in 1987, provides irrefutable evidence that diet can in fact improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Large scale studies published in prestigious medical journals such as the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, smaller scale studies published in less widely known journals, basic science studies, and high-quality epidemiological studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology have all linked the improvements of MS in real-life humans (not rats, not mice, not chimpanzees) with diet change. Even something as simple as supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of even developing multiple sclerosis by thirty percent (the vitamin D study was published in the prestigious journal Neurology in 2004.)
The point is, real research has been done and has been published in mainstream medical journals showing that diet and lifestyle modification DOES positively impact MS. Sadly, the vast majority of MS patients are told that their only option for treatment is disease-modifying medications, which not only have serious side effects but also come with a hefty price tag. For patients not covered by health insurance, multiple sclerosis treatment costs can range from less than $15,000 to $50,000 or more per year. Cost typically is on the higher end for patients who take drugs designed to slow progress of the disease. I’m not saying anyone should stop taking their MS medication, but I am saying that just taking medicine alone is not going to optimize your health in all of the many different ways a holistic approach can offer.
There are No Coincidences
It was not a coincidence that the only person I knew who had MS at the time of my diagnosis happened to be my friend from high school, AJ Cotsalas (as I mentioned in part 1 of my MS story, AJ is the friend I dedicated this blog post to, his photo is at the bottom of this post.) I also don’t believe it was a coincidence that AJ was the friend who happened to reach out to help me more than anyone else my sophomore year of high school when I was really struggling. AJ was two years older than me and up until my sophomore year he had really paid much attention to me. But for whatever reason, AJ reached out to me the year I was visibly struggling and he really did help me. We formed a connection that year that would last a lifetime for me. Even though I knew at the time we would go our separate ways, I also knew we would always be in each other’s lives somehow. Of course I had NO WAY of knowing how that would all play out.
Although AJ was not given the diet option by his neurologist, at the time I was diagnosed I knew AJ was on disease-modifying medication for MS and just knowing that he was able to manage the disease acceptably gave me tremendous comfort. But it was for the first week or so after my diagnosis that I contemplated ending my life. This is the first time I have had the courage to write about my feelings and I don’t even want to dive into them too deep because it’s not something I ever want to relive on any level imaginable, but I simply could not imagine living with a disabling disease. Up until recently, AJ was the only person I had ever confided those thoughts to. For years and years I worried I had planted the horrific seed in his head for what was to come. And for years I have never been fully honest or open about those feelings because frankly I was so ashamed and embarrassed by them. I also knew that none of my other friends would understand how I could feel that way. At the time, the only person who was my age who knew what it felt like to be diagnosed with a potentially disabling disease, was AJ. It was a gift from God that he was in my life. At this stage of my life I don’t think I am doing anyone any favors hiding the truth and pretending like I was stronger than I was. I was absolutely NOT fine. I was NOT strong. I was terrified beyond words. I knew I had just one option: I had to do whatever it took to get better because I was not strong enough to stay sick. That’s the reality of truth. That’s why I took the diet so seriously.
I can’t even imagine the terror I would have felt had I been diagnosed with MS before AJ. But as long as AJ was managing the disease and living well, I had hope that I could too. And he knew that. In the beginning I constantly needed reassurance from him that we would both be ok. If I was having a bad day, I would simply call AJ for a pep talk and he would assure me everything would be just fine. He had been doing just fine and he assured me I would be ok to. I believed him and I very much needed the pep talks, especially for the first year or so.
Anyone who receives a life changing diagnosis can empathize with the terror that accompanies it. Nothing can ease your mind when you know your body is betraying you. I could have easily slipped into a very dark depression had it not been for five people: AJ, my neurologist, my mom, my dad and my now husband, Andy (who has contributed substantially on every level possible to the research and work I have done to slow the progression of my multiple sclerosis.)
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” —Christopher Reeve
Hope & Love
AJ and my neurologist gave me hope. My mom, dad and Andy, gave me love (note: I was not yet married to Andy at the time of my diagnosis, we were still just very close friends. It was the MS that brought us together. Andy was in medical school at the time of my diagnosis and I called to ask him if we would research the diet my neurologist was recommending. That was the phone call that reunited us and we were married a year and a half later in 2000.)
Just like in the movie the Horse Whisperer, I now believe it was the combination of hope and love that formed the foundation of what set my MS healing journey in motion. Yes, everything else I will talk about in part 3, 4 and 5 of my MS story regarding diet, exercise, supplements, meditation, etc. all played a MAJOR role in my healing. But without the foundation of hope and love, life as I know it today would not be the same. The truth is, without love and hope I would not have been able to be in the right frame of mind to make the lifestyle changes I made right from the beginning. Unfortunately, I am also very much aware that not everyone battling MS has the same hope and love that I was blessed with having.
It is with overwhelming grief when I say I understand why my friend AJ took his life shortly after his thirtieth birthday in 2003. At that stage in both of our lives, neither one of us could handle being handicapped. I don’t want to pretend I was the “strong one”, because the difference is I was given hope from the beginning and I quickly started to get better. AJ was not only not given hope, his symptoms were worsening. By the time I was married I had moved away from my hometown and so I was only talking to AJ on the phone, I didn’t realize his symptoms were progressing. It makes me unspeakably sad to think of how alone and scared he must have felt and yet I know he didn’t tell me his health was declining because he knew if I knew it would set me back. I did not a lot of resiliency back then and he knew me well and knew it.
I don’t just believe, I know AJ had love from his parents as well as from his many, many close friends. But AJ did NOT have the other essential ingredient to healing that I had: hope. The disease-modifying medications he was taking were not helping his symptoms, he had terrible side effects from them and although he didn’t tell me, he was slowly getting worse. AJ was my son’s age, 18 years old, and just about to leave for college when he had his first MS attack of optic neuritis and lost most of his vision in one eye. Now that I have a son who was the same age as AJ when he first got sick I can understand the pain he must have gone through on a far deeper level. It is unimaginable to me to even try to think of my son losing his vision in one eye. Looking back I am ashamed of myself for not realizing how incredibly difficult that must have been for AJ and I STILL feel tremendous guilt for not doing more to help him, especially considering how much he had helped me. I also feel tremendous guilt that AJ was never able to confide in me that he was getting worse. By the time he started to have more serious symptoms, I was happily married with a baby and living thousands of miles away and was feeling better than I had in years. AJ never told me about the constant vertigo or the fact he woke up one day and was unable to move the right side of his body.
The truth is, AJ was the strong one, not me. And as long as I thought AJ was managing his disease, I had hope. If I had known his symptoms were progressing like they were I would have lost hope and I know he knew that. The worst part of all was that the MS medications he was taking were well known to cause depression as a major side effect. In fact, the number one side effect of the medication AJ was taking (Rebiff), was mood changes and suicidal ideation.
Although I had no idea his symptoms were as serious as they were, I did know AJ was not doing as well as I was and I tried desperately to convince him to start the anti-inflammatory diet my neurologist had recommended (see below under “My Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Options”). But AJ’s neurologist specifically told him that changing his diet was a “waste of time.” Remember, AJ knew me from high school (if you remember from Part 1 of my MS story, I was the girl who would have been “least likely to write 5 books”) and at that time I didn’t have a single credential to back up the diet recommendations I was making to him. The bottom line is that AJ put his faith in mainstream medicine and when it failed him he lost hope. As hard as it was for me to accept what he did, I do now understand. And now that I have an 18 year old son, the exact age AJ was when he had his first MS attack and lost his vision to optic neuritis, I understand his struggles even more. Sometimes it takes a completely different life perspective to really understand someone else’s pain. All I have to do to imagine the pain AJ was in is look at my 18 year old son and imagine how he would have felt.
If you have been following Clean Cuisine for a while or have read any of our five books, you should know that none of them would have existed had it not been for AJ. It was while I was in a postpartum funk after the birth of our son in 2001 when AJ gave me the idea to write our first book, The Gold Coast Cure. Although it was nothing nearly as serious as the issue I had my sophomore year of high school, looking back my symptoms most definitely met the criteria for postpartum depression. Up until that point I had been snail-mailing and emailing AJ anti-inflammatory diet tips, recipes to try, supplements to take, etc. but he wouldn’t follow any of my (unsolicited) advice because of his neurologist’s lack of support. I understood his reasons and I understood that I wasn’t exactly an authority on MS. That didn’t keep me from trying to convince him though. I think he finally just got so fed up with all of my advice that he told me if I would write a book and actually manage to get it published he would then follow my diet. Keep in mind, this was back in the day when getting a book published was not an easy thing to do. It was almost like saying, “Well, sure Ivy, I will fly to the moon with you if you build a space ship.” 😉 I guess naivety was one of my greatest assets though, because I actually got right to work handwriting the book (I couldn’t even type when I started!)
We All Need a Purpose
Writing that first book DID give me an enormous purpose and once I got started my postpartum funk lifted almost immediately.
I will forever be grateful to AJ for being my true friend and getting me started on the books, because they really did give me a purpose. The books have sold tens of thousands of copies and changed the lives of many, many people (here is just one magazine article of a woman’s MS success story from following the advice in our first book.)
It is not a coincidence that in the letter AJ’s mom wrote to me shortly after he passed that she said she had hoped his life was not in vain. It wasn’t. Because if it had not been for AJ, I would have never in a millions years have thought to write even the first book. Knowing that the books have helped so many people is really the only thing that has enabled me to move on from the guilt I felt over not being able to help my friend.
The Last Call
On the last call he made to me, just a few days before he ended his life, AJ called to apologize. It was the first time he had ever called that I didn’t recognize his voice. I had no idea what he was even apologizing for because at the time the apology made no sense whatsoever. Of course I know now the apology was for what was to come a few days later but at the time he just muttered something about apologizing for “not being himself lately.” I knew in my heart something was wrong within the first minute of the call, but as you will read below, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to properly handle it, a decision that would haunt me for over a decade in the years that followed.
The book AJ had given me the idea to write was done but I couldn’t get a single publisher interested in publishing it. My ego was at stake because everyone knew I had been working on this book for years. If I couldn’t get it published I would look like a total failure. I had the attention of just one editor, Allison Janse, from HCI Books (the publisher of the wildly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series.) Allison said she might be able to get her publisher interested in publishing my book if I could somehow manage to get test group of people with multiple sclerosis and a multitude of additional inflammatory / autoimmune diseases on our diet and have them all see results in five weeks. This seemed like a monumental task but I was so determined to get that first book published that I wasn’t going to let a single thing slow me down. Unfortunately, my focus on the book and ultimately my ego kept me from properly handling the unplanned phone call from my friend AJ.
I had rounded up all of the people and had the study group ready to go at the prestigious Red Bank Atlantic Club in New Jersey (Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen were members of the club.) AJ’s phone call came just 2 weeks before the class was ready to start and I was working around the clock to organize every last detail while also trying to take care of our toddler. My husband worked over 100 hours a week in his surgical residency at the time (this was before they changed the laws limiting residency workweek to just 80 hours a week) and I vividly remember feeling completely overwhelmed at the time he called.
Still, when I got the call, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t understand what AJ was apologizing for on the phone and it bothered me for days. I just kept telling myself I would call him back when things slowed down and when I had more time.
Three days later, I still had not made time to call AJ. Instead, I was on the phone with Nordic Naturals, the pharmaceutical grade fish oil company that had agreed to donate bottles of their fish oil for my 5-week study class (FYI fish oil has always been an important component of the anti-inflammatory diet I follow) when one of my closest friends, Susan, called to break the news to me. AJ had taken his life. Our friend from high school, Mike, had found him.
There is so much more to the AJ story, but of course I know now what his apology was for. AJ knew I depended on him doing well in order to find the strength to face MS myself. He knew if I had any inkling of an idea that he had lost hope that I would lose hope too. And when he took his life I did lose hope. I really and truly lost all hope at first. AJ was the only friend who understood exactly what I was going through and he always made me feel he could handle anything. Just like the 4-minute mile phenomenon, if he could do it, I could maybe do it too. But when he couldn’t handle it, I really and truly almost fell apart.
I thank God I had my husband and son when the call from Susan came because with AJ gone I not only felt completely alone with the disease, but I also felt on some level that I had contributed to what had happened. I replayed that last call over and over in my head a millions times and I couldn’t forgive myself for how I handled it. But now that I look back it makes me incredibly sad to think of how many young people get diagnosed with a life changing autoimmune disease like MS and don’t have a good friend who understands what they are going through. I’m not being honest if I don’t acknowledge how important it was to have a friend who understood and I now realize so many people don’t have that.
With AJ gone I came very close to cancelling the whole thing at the Red Bank Atlantic Club and then on the night of the first class I simply burst into tears in front of everyone as I told about losing my friend. But by the end of the 5-weeks when the anti-inflammatory lifestyle (which included the diet, 30 min of exercise 3 days a week, and targeted supplements) was put to the test and EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the class saw results my hope was restored. I will never forget the woman with MS whose legs were so weak she had not been able to walk on the beach for over 10 years stand up on the final night with tears in her eyes telling everyone how she had just returned from a walk on the beach.
I will never be able to fully forgive myself for the way I handled that last call, but I know that AJ was a part of my life for a reason and I know it was not a coincidence that the class had already been set up before he passed. I would have never had the inner strength to do what it took to set that first class up had I not done it before AJ passed. And yet, even with AJ gone, seeing the results of that first class gave me a renewed sense of hope. Just like the message that came forth crystal clear in the dream years later (more on that will be in part 5 of my MS story), taking the focus away from myself and onto helping others really did play a critical role in helping me cope with the overwhelming sadness, fear and guilt I was feeling over losing my friend.
My Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms Responded Quickly to a Change in Diet
I know now that the Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis that my neurologist initially recommended was far from the optimal diet for MS, but following the core principles of the diet did move the needle. And by that, I mean I started to feel better rather quickly (Note: the biggest diet change I initially made was to limit my intake of animal based saturated fat to less 15 grams a day . By default, I started to consume less animal foods in general and I cut out dairy because I didn’t like the taste of “low fat” or “fat free” dairy and one serving of “full fat” dairy had a third of my daily allowance for animal based saturated fat, so it didn’t seem worth it. I was basically eating a mostly plant-based whole food diet with small amounts of high quality animal protein. In a nutshell, that’s what the Clean Cuisine diet is all about.) I was soon on a first name basis with everyone at the health food store in Littler Silver, New Jersey and I began reading anything and everything I possibly could as it related to nutrition.
It wasn’t long before I was feeling better than I felt before my diagnosis.
Between 1998 and 2002, I think the only reading material I consumed was either nutrition, exercise or cookbooks (I had a passion for “cleaning up” recipes and I taught anti-inflammatory diet cooking classes to make extra money while living in New Jersey while my husband was in residency and our son was a baby.) By the time AJ suggested I write the first book I was still hardly an expert on MS. I was stepping way out of my comfort zone when I started talking publicly about how diet impacted the disease. It just was not mainstream (it’s still not!) to say diet could make a difference in the management of a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis and I knew a number of neurologists were criticizing me for even suggesting that diet played a role.
The perceived judgement of the medical community intimidated me so much that I actually had a full blown panic attack on our first live CNN interview when I was still in my twenties because I was so worried all of the doctors who might have been watching it would be criticizing me. It really took a lot for me to get the nerve to tell my story on a national platform back then.
It’s not a coincidence that I married a surgeon because had I not been able to parlay his medical education I would have never had the confidence to push my story and message forward on my own, especially considering I had zero credentials to do so. My husband on the other hand was well known to be the smartest guy in our entire school and as silly as it may sound to say that, his reputation for being so smart made a big difference to me. I greatly respected his opinion. When he was in 2nd grade, my husband was 2nd in the nation in the National Spelling Bee (we still have the photo of him shaking President Reagan’s hand!), he graduated valedictorian of our high school, had an almost perfect SAT, and went on to graduate top of his class at Cornell and later the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, consistently ranked among the top three medical schools in the country. I say all this not just to brag about my husband, but because if it were not for his academic background there is no way I would have had the courage to even write the first book. Knowing how well my husband was respected academically and knowing he had both the intelligence and the medical training to sift through hundreds and hundreds of academic nutrition research articles gave me the confidence to push my message forward. If you are familiar with the intricacies of our Clean Cuisine anti-inflammatory diet, you know it doesn’t fall under any of the fad diet categories (paleo, vegan, low fat, keto, etc.) and the reason for this is because it is based on serious academic research that my husband played a tremendous role in helping me interpret.
Now that it has been over twenty years and now that I am my mid-forties, I finally have the confidence to tell my story without the need for a doctor’s approval and without fear of the medical community criticizing me. Even if the doctors refuse to look at the science we have based our recommendations on (our books reference hundreds of studies from the mainstream medical journals), it is my opinion that they should at the very least acknowledge that “miracle stories” of healing do occur. I say this because it is my belief that unless the situation is definitively terminal, I believe a doctor should always give a patient hope and should always say that healing is a possibility. I am living proof.
Over the years, I have embraced so many different healing modalities and incorporated them into my life that my story is far from anything I would call a “spontaneous healing”. However, I feel it is important to shed light on the fact that real evidence documented by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) through 3.500 references from over 800 journals in 20 languages shows spontaneous healings do occur. In other words, miracles do happen.
Whether you want to call my story a miracle or not, I will leave up to you. But the facts are I have controlled my MS symptoms now for over 20 years without medication. Please understand I am NOT by any means encouraging anyone to stop taking their medications for MS, but what I am encouraging is for anyone with MS to also embrace a mind, body and soul healing approach to their MS journey. I am also encouraging anyone with MS (or any autoimmune disease for that matter!) to have hope. There is always hope.
We now live in the age of information and it only takes a Google search to read miraculous natural healing stories. The things I have done to manage my disease might not all be “proven” to work (though they certainly won’t hurt!), but you have to also understand there is no monetary incentive for conducting the gold standard of nutrition studies (a randomized clinical trial) to prove cause and effect of say adding turmeric to your diet specifically for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Sure, there are umpteen studies showing turmeric is anti-inflammatory, but you have to understand that it is highly doubtful that a study specific to turmeric and MS will ever be conducted, and so by mainstream medical standards a neurologist would be correct in saying that turmeric has never been shown to help with MS. I for one am not waiting around for such a study because I know taking turmeric can’t hurt and I believe that the anti-inflammatory properties it offers absolutely help. I don’t need an official study to tell me that.
Although! If you can even believe it, a just-published study has actually been conducted on the benefits of a daily cup of flavonoid-rich cocoa to reduce MS-fatigue. I thought my husband was actually joking when he told me about the randomized, double-blind placebo -controlled cocoa study that was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychology. Of course I was not at all surprised that the conclusion of the study was that “a flavonoid beverage demonstrates the potential to improve fatigue and fatiguability in relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.” But the point is, without the monetary incentive of turning the cocoa beverage into a billion dollar pharmaceutical, the research on holistic methods for treating MS with cocoa will most likely never be done. Think about it, who is going to make any money from researching natural substances that cannot be patented and sold? I kept joking to my husband that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Hershey’s funded the cocoa study 😉
Anyway, the point is, I’m not waiting around for the turmeric study. I know the incredible anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric and I know MS is a disease made worse by inflammation that can benefit from eating more anti-inflammatory foods and eating less pro-inflammatory foods. Do I know for a fact that taking turmeric is definitively helping with my MS symptoms? No. But what I do know is that turmeric benefits are incredibly vast and very thoroughly researched. Currently, there are over 12,500 peer-reviewed articles published proving many turmeric benefits, including potent anti-inflammatory benefits. I don’t need to wait for a study proving turmeric helps MS patients. I just add turmeric to my daily routine. It’s certainly not hurting.
The way I look at is that if you wait around for everything to be proven scientifically, you could be waiting for a very, very long time. Now that I am officially middle age, I realize time is a thief. I don’t have time to waste waiting for someone to “prove” beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single one of the healthy lifestyle things I do to keep my multiple sclerosis in remission are in fact definitively helping.
But trust me, I also don’t want to be an “overachiever” here either. In other words, the last thing I want to be doing is more than I need to. Instead, I have relied greatly on my husband’s academic background for helping me to understand how to read and interpret scientific studies that are published in medical journals. My husband has helped me gain a basic understanding of how these studies are conducted so I can arrive at my own conclusion and make informed judgments about what I decide to do or not do. The things I recommend have all been researched and well documented for improving health in a number of different areas and they have all been shown to either support a healthy immune system and/ or reduce inflammation, they just might not be specific to MS.
If you have any of our books, you know all of them except for the cookbook have extensive reference sections with hundreds of research studies from mainstream medical journals. And while every recommendation might not be specific to MS, as a whole the recommendations will strengthen your immune system, reduce oxidative stress (which slows the aging process), reduce inflammation, support a healthy gut microbiome (which directly affects your immune system), help lower body fat (which further reduces systemic inflammation) and keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. It should go without saying that anyone with multiple sclerosis would want to reap those benefits. We don’t need to wait around for an “official” study to prove every single recommendation.
It is hard for me to understand how a physician could possibly say to a patient with an autoimmune disease that following a nutrient-dense/ anti-inflammatory diet would be a “waste of time” (which is verbatim what AJ’s neurologist told him), because it should just be common sense that optimizing nutrition when you have a compromised immune system and reducing inflammation when you have an inflammatory condition would always be a good idea.
But before you can begin to heal, I firmly believe you have to BELIEVE you can heal. I now have a full understanding that the mind-body connection is very, very real. However, because I was so intimidated by the medical community, I didn’t feel fully confident to talk about the role I believed my mindset played in my healing journey until now. So yes, I incorporated many different healing modalities into my lifestyle —but I can’t say with certainty that any of them would have worked had I not believed they would.
Nothing Great Can Be Accomplished Unless You BELIEVE it Can Happen
Think about going to the moon for a minute. Had it not already been done, you might think the idea of flying to the moon sounds impossible. But someone had to BELIEVE it could be done in order for it to happen. Of course you can’t just believe and then go sit on the couch waiting for the spaceship to be built. Action must follow belief for anything great to happen. But it starts with a belief.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford
Now that I realize how intimately the mind-body is connected, I know that regardless of whether you are battling multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease or any other degenerative disease, the first step to getting well is to BELIEVE your body can heal. Action must follow belief, but your healing journey begins with hope and belief. Now that I look back on my MS journey, it is crystal clear that it all started with believing I could get better. The mind really is that powerful.
In Loving Memory of AJ Cotsalas