All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for March 2003

How people heal is focus of feature

New "Healthwise" column explores alternative therapies

Sun, Mar. 09, 2003
Diane Evans
Beacon Journal

Last spring, I got an idea for a new column -- something along the lines of what everyday people do, on their own, to heal themselves.

What you're reading is the first installment.

I should tell you, I've never been a health fanatic. And I never paid a lot of attention to unconventional forms of healing.

Even after January 2000, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the idea of doing things on my own to complement traditional medicine wasn't foremost on my mind.

That changed last April.

Oh, I still call my doctors when I'm sick, and I take a weekly injection meant to stave off the effects of MS, a disorder of the nervous system. What's different is that I've taken my health more into my own hands, or at least I believe I have.

Let me share my story:

By looking at me, you wouldn't know I have MS. But last winter and during the preceding fall, I felt fatigued nearly every day. Sometimes I'd nap for hours.

At one point, I underwent a four-day treatment of high doses of steroids, meant to pull me out of the slump. For two weeks following that treatment, I could barely move.

I regained energy, only to fall back into daily fatigue. Another medication followed, to no avail.

Then something seemingly unremarkable happened: Our younger daughter switched to a new piano teacher, someone who happens to be fascinated with alternative forms of medicine. When he learned I had MS, he lent me the book, Your Body's Many Cries For Water by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj.

In the scientific world, Batmanghelidj is an outcast. There is no proof for his claims that dehydration causes certain diseases, that hydration is a cure and that water prevents cancer.

Regardless, I started drinking about six 8-ounce glasses of purified water every day. I noticed an improvement in my energy in just five days.

Batmanghelidj, with whom I've spoken, recommends drinking at least two quarts of purified water a day (about eight glasses), or at least enough so that your urine is clear. He also recommends a glass of orange juice or a banana a day for potassium, plus a little salt added to your diet. I just add a dash from the salt shaker to a plate each day.

The American Dietetic Association also recommends drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses a day, and so do many doctors.

The caveats?

In some cases, doctors may recommend more limited water intake for people with certain conditions, such as heart problems and kidney disease. Also, a study by federal researchers found that too much water can be dangerous for babies, if sodium in the bloodstream becomes diluted. And last year, a noted researcher from Dartmouth Medical School warned that while drinking extra water usually causes no harm, there have been deaths due to water intoxication, especially among marathon runners and users of the drug ecstasy.

In my case, I had nothing to lose by drinking more water. My intake had been low, even though my doctor's nurse frequently had mentioned the importance of staying "well hydrated."

Eight glasses a day seemed like a lot, so I settled on six.

I've never since fallen into a pattern of fatigue.

Water didn't cure my MS. I still had an attack in August that temporarily impaired my vision. But on a daily basis, I feel healthy and energetic.

That experience gave rise to this new column.

Think of this column as an adventure -- one we'll take together -- into the mysteries of good health, and the resilience of the human body and spirit. Mostly, we'll explore the simple things that ordinary people do to feel good and relieve common problems.

I'm not a doctor. So this won't be a medical advice column.

And, please, if you think there's something wrong with you, see a doctor.

We'll just do some exploring, looking at new ideas with both openness and healthy doses of skepticism.

What works to relieve a headache, or make an age spot disappear? Is there really healing power in bee venom? Does anyone actually apply lavender oil to soothe a minor burn, as a book I have suggests? What do the experts say? What are the risks?

On one hand, the column will look at what has been passed down through the ages by various cultures. On the other, it will look at what's being learned anew.

Alternative therapies can be controversial, because they are largely unproven. Yet even mainstream medicine has opened the door to new possibilities. The National Institutes of Health has a Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association now publishes scientific studies on alternative and complementary medicine.

There may be few easy answers in medicine. But for me, drinking water made a difference. It was a simple solution that didn't carry the high cost or unwanted side effects of drugs.

That is what this column is going to be about: the simple solutions. And I'd like to hear yours.

In addition, I'll be going out on my own, talking with people of different cultures and people with experience in all kinds of alternative therapies. I'll also be answering your questions.

We'll learn together.

If you have a question or suggestion for Evans, contact her by mail at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or by phone at 330-996-3587.

Diane Evans is a Beacon Journal staff writer. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column.

© Copyright 2003, Akron Beacon Journal

Exploring potential of mind, body connection

We don't know how our thoughts affect well-being

Tue, Mar. 11, 2003
By Diane Evans
Beacon Journal columnist

The idea that the mind affects the body goes back to the ancient Greeks.

Hippocrates, a physician who's known as the father of medicine, had the idea that thoughts produce certain reactions in the body.

You'd think that 2,400 years later, we'd know a lot about this mind-body connection.

Patience, patience. Scientists still are trying to prove what Hippocrates supposed.

Some doctors warn that, for lack of definitive research, we shouldn't be lured into taking this notion of mind-body interaction too far. Yet most of us are probably pretty sure our thoughts and emotions affect our well-being, even if we aren't exactly sure how.

I recently became interested in this subject because of the way my eyes healed after a bout with multiple sclerosis in August. An attack left me with blurred vision, which my doctors expected all along to be temporary.

The day my vision first improved, I had gone to breakfast with our editor, Jan Leach. She said all the things you'd want to hear from your boss: Get well, don't worry, call if you need anything.

Later that day, I sat with a book, as I did every afternoon, trying to read a few paragraphs. My left eye still wouldn't cooperate. Don't ask me why, but this time, instead of giving up, I kept trying even as it became physically uncomfortable. There was a point, a split second, when I felt my eye being pulled momentarily into sharper focus. From that day on, my vision improved little by little, until it returned to normal.

Now I'm someone who is fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive family and great friends. And with good relations at work for 29 years -- not to mention a union contract -- I wasn't worried about my job, either. Yet it was Jan, more as friend than boss, who encouraged me on that particular day. I left our meeting feeling uplifted.

The big question: Did a bit of inspiration that one day put me in a frame of mind where I was disposed to try harder, thus nudging me toward a turning point in healing hours later? Do our bodies really work in such ways?

My neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Francois Bethoux, doesn't dismiss the possibility.

"All of us physicians are wondering about that," he said. "We have many anecdotal reports like this."

Bethoux suspects that since it is proved that stress can exacerbate symptoms in disease, it seems likely relaxation can ease them.

Of course, there are times when no amount of positive thinking can change an outcome. For heaven's sake, don't blame yourself if you try and still don't get better. There have been times I've tried, too, and been discouraged.

Let's just say this much: If the first rule of medicine (from Hippocrates, no less) is to do no harm, then what's the harm in testing our own limitations? (That is really what I did that day.) Beyond that, you never know how a little kindness may make a difference in someone's life.

A couple of other views:

First, from Jeffrey A. Dusek, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston: "For the better part of 30 years, there has been research establishing that psychological state has an impact on physical functioning. However, with the advent of new neuro-imaging tools, we are now able to determine which brain areas are active when someone is thinking of calming situations or an emotional experience."

In Dusek's view, new technologies have put us at the frontier of new discoveries.

And a counterpoint from Stephen Barrett, of the nonprofit Quackwatch, which seeks to debunk myths: "It's very tempting to believe you can go through some mental mechanism to improve your health. The data isn't there. What we know is that tension and people's responses to tension can affect the course of certain ailments. All this other stuff is iffy."

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health have launched a major new study into mind-body interactions. A primary emphasis will be on how emotions, beliefs and attitudes affect health.

Hippocrates once said: "There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance."

Oh, so many years, and so much yet to know.

If you have a question or suggestion for Evans, contact her by mail at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or by phone at 330-996-3587.

Diane Evans is a Beacon Journal staff writer. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column.

© Copyright 2003, Akron Beacon Journal