Multiple Sclerosis—a Baffling Disease
ARE you stiff as a board when trying to get out of bed in the morning? Are you unable to walk so that a wheelchair is needed? Must someone push your legs and aid you into a chair so you can bathe? At one time did you have good penmanship but now can barely write your name? Do you have difficulty in controlling your bladder especially in cold or rainy weather? Do you see well and then your eyes blur or do you have double vision?
Maybe you have multiple sclerosis—baffling MS.
What Is It?
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. It attacks the insulation of nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord. Normal nerve fibers are insulated by a sheath of fatty tissue. This insulation might be compared to insulation around a telephone wire. When the insulation around a nerve fiber is broken down by MS, the conduction of impulses along the now exposed fiber is disrupted. There is a short-circuiting of nerve impulses, and the corresponding muscle cells become paralyzed.
In areas where nerve-fiber insulation is broken down, scar tissue forms; this results in hard patches in the brain and spinal cord. “Sclerosis” comes from a Greek word meaning “hard.” Because these small hard areas appear scattered throughout the gray and white substance of the brain and spinal cord, the disease is called “multiple” sclerosis.
Some of the symptoms are fatigue, numbness, tingling, incoordination, strong jerky movements, weakness or spasms of the arm, leg and eye muscles (causing blurring and double vision), tremors of the limbs on attempting some special action, staggering, a spastic gait, actual paralysis, headaches, weakness of the bladder and stiffness of the limbs.
Odd Aspects of MS
One of the many odd aspects of MS is that it attacks chiefly people in the prime of life, persons between the ages of twenty and forty. In fact, doctors report that MS is the commonest disease of the nervous system affecting people in the prime of life in northern Europe and North America. Some 250,000 Americans, and possibly many more, are afflicted. It is most common in the economically advanced areas of the earth, where the hygienic standards are the highest. “The more primitive the society,” says one doctor, “the less the MS problem.” It is relatively more common in cold climates. It is relatively rare in South America, Africa and in Asian lands.
MS is slowly progressive, perhaps developing in fifteen to thirty years. As a rule it is a disease that worsens, slackens off and then returns. Severe symptoms may appear and then, just as suddenly, disappear. The patient may suddenly find he can walk again. His eyesight may be restored. He may be an office worker, able to hold down a job, type and dress himself. Then without notice his hands become clumsy, awkward and so numb that he strikes the wrong keys. Speech is slow and broken into small syllables. Even though improvement is spontaneous, he may relapse into a similar state, or worse. Baffling MS.
Despite much medical research, MS remains, as one doctor put it, “a disease with an unknown cause, an unpredictable course, an undiscovered cure and not even a simple laboratory test to confirm its diagnosis.” Baffling MS.
MS was first described in detail in 1868, and since then many opinions as to possible causes have been offered. One of the most popular in recent years is that MS is an autoimmune disease; that is, one in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own substances.
However, there are authorities who believe MS is linked with a virus. For example, writing in Scientific American of July 1970, British epidemiologist Dr. Geoffrey Dean reports that variations in its incidence around the world suggest that it results from infection by a virus of the little-understood “slow” or latent kind. Normally, he believes, MS is “a virus infection of childhood” like polio. The earlier a child is exposed to the polio virus, the less likely he is to develop the crippling variety. But in those parts of the world with a high hygienic standard, a child may miss an early infection; then if it occurs for the first time in early adult life, it is with more serious consequences. The virus theory, like others, has not been proved.
Treatment and General Aids
There is no specific therapy for MS, but many doctors use adrenocortical steroids such as cortisone. It is believed that temporary use of this drug may possibly hasten a recovery or remission. But whether such drugs actually shorten an acute episode or lessen it in intensity is still debated. Thus much of the therapy for treating MS is related to relieving symptoms, and drugs of various kinds are used. Opinions vary, and so does the treatment of MS. Baffling MS.
Many doctors recommend occupational therapy, which might be knitting, painting, typing and so forth, anything to keep the mind active and not on one’s ailment. Enough rest, a happy mental outlook and a determination to get well are helpful. It is important to keep the patient’s morale high, and a sympathetic, hopeful attitude on the part of the family will help to make life more pleasant for all concerned.
Extreme fatigue, exposure to cold or dampness should all be avoided. Infections of any sort, especially respiratory infections, often bring on relapses or cause the disease to worsen.
There is also the need to avoid bad emotions, such as anger and rage. Studies have shown that chronic bad emotions probably have an injurious effect as to the activity of the disease. Acute emotional stress may suddenly bring on a severe attack.
It is believed that inactivity will lead to increased stiffness of the legs. Thus, writing in the volume Current Therapy (1967), Dr. W. W. Tourtellotte, M.D., of the University of Michigan Medical Center, says of MS patients: “Daily walking to just beyond the level of fatigue by patients who are moderately afflicted is encouraged. . . . It is our experience that patients with multiple sclerosis should be active and busy as long as their neurological condition permits.”
Much controversy exists as to whether the taking of certain vitamins will help an MS patient. There have been reports of improvement following the taking of some vitamins, but the medical profession in general believes that there is no real evidence or support for many of the conclusions drawn. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy states that vitamin preparations can be taken for “their psychotherapeutic and tonic effects.” Recommended in this regard are nicotinic acid (niacin), and vitamins B1 and B12. French doctors who used vitamin B12 for treating MS reported considerable improvement in patients.
Nutritionists generally believe from their research that vitamins can help an MS patient. Nutritionist Adelle Davis, for example, reports in her book Let’s Get Well: “When patients suffering from multiple sclerosis have been given vitamins E, B6, and other B vitamins, the illness has been arrested; even advanced cases improved in walking and had better bladder control and fewer arm and leg spasms. The calcification of soft tissues has been prevented with vitamin E. It seems to me that all of these nutrients should be emphasized in the diet of any individual suffering from this disease.”
Also nutritionist Catharyn Elwood reports that Doctor J. E. Crane “has had wonderful success with vitamin-E treatment of multiple sclerosis. Of 24 severe cases, 18 ‘improved markedly.’”
Vitamin C has also been reported as having some value. In The Complete Book of Vitamins, the statement is made: “In multiple sclerosis, objective and subjective improvement was noted in the majority of cases when large doses of ascorbic acid were administered.”
A recent book, New Hope for Incurable Diseases (New York; 1971), has a chapter on MS. The authors, E. Cheraskin, M.D., and W. M. Ringsdorf, Jr., D.M.D., tell of MS patients who have benefited by a low-carbohydrate diet. A high-carbohydrate diet made their symptoms worse. Say the authors: “There is hope for the person with multiple sclerosis! Diet, as a therapeutic tool, certainly should be included on the basis of this evidence.” In the light of the dietary evidence they have uncovered, these doctors say: “Simple sugars and saturated fats should be viewed as susceptibility factors in multiple sclerosis.”
With regard to the matter of prevention, these doctors state: “It is likely that the diet offering more hope for the incurable may also prevent the development of these disorders.” Dietary factors recommended by these authorities are: Adequate protein and “1. Restriction of dietary carbohydrate, especially sugar, syrup, and very highly processed starch foods. 2. Restriction of saturat[ed] fats and replacement with the unsaturated fats. 3. Multiple vitamin-mineral supplementation. 4. Megadoses of Vitamin C and Vitamin B.”
My Own Experience with MS
Baffling MS manifests itself in various ways among different persons. My own experience with strange symptoms began in 1956 when I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was waiting to attend the fall class of the Watchtower Society’s Gilead missionary school. A pain in my back came on, and one hip looked higher than the other. The doctor put me in bed for a week or so and called it sciatica. The pain in the right lumbar region left, and I straightened up.
After going to my missionary assignment in Guyana, I had no trouble again until 1959. Again it was pain in my back. After some time in bed, I returned to work but had stiffness. When I visited Minneapolis in 1961 a chiropractor told me he thought that I had multiple sclerosis. He gave me adjustments of the spine, and I began taking some vitamins, such as vitamin B.
Later my right hand went dead for over a month, and I ate with my left hand. Then my right hand came back to life, and I was normal again. It was all very baffling.
In February 1962, I did much enjoyable work. But in March I could not walk for a time. Every year I would get this attack. Then it came after nine months, and after six months.
I began to have trouble with my legs; I would often fall down. Then I had trouble with my bladder. In 1964 a doctor gave me cortisone and called my ailment peripheral neuritis. Cortisone seems to deaden the pain. Another doctor examined me and recommended shortwave treatments for my back and certain exercises. In 1965 I went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Here I had many examinations and tests. Finally after more than a week, I was told that my ailment was multiple sclerosis. In my case it was thought wise not to take any more cortisone, as it seemed to make my muscles more stiff.
Later in 1965 I was back in Guyana to continue my missionary work. My legs steadily got worse, and in 1968 I began to use a wheelchair.
Now in 1972 my hands are getting weaker, and I am unable to stand on my legs. I find it difficult to write my name, and my typing is done with two fingers. Though there is general deterioration now, my conducting Bible studies with students helps to keep my mind alert.
A person with MS is dependent on others, and I am fortunate to be living in Guyana, where people are friendly and understanding. The doctors and nurses at the Georgetown Public Hospital really are kind, and when I need help they give me assistance. Even the climate in Guyana is favorable, since warm weather seems to help me. The whole year around it is between eighty-two and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
My husband and I have been full-time ministers for eighteen years now, and we have been here for about fourteen years. I am able to teach people the Bible in my home, on the phone and when talking to neighbors and friends. It is good to keep active in spite of that baffling MS.—Contributed.