When I was diagnosed with MS, my doctors immediately asked me one question: “Which medication will you be using?” This is a major element of MS culture. Back then, in 2000, it was the ABC drugs; Avonex, Betaseron and Copaxone. All three of these required the patient to inject the medication weekly, every other day or even daily – depending on which drug they were on. There are now other options, but they’re still meant to be taken for the remainder of the patient’s life. Immediately, something about this irritated me. I was 23 years old, just starting out in the world and petrified at the concept of having to give myself shots for the rest of my life. I decided to try Avonex, the once-weekly injection. If I had to do these shots, the fewer occurrences necessary, the better.
After a few months, I got the hang of it and the drug began to help. I was sleeping better, my symptoms remitted and I’d created a system that allowed me to fit the injections into my life with few interruptions. About two years into the protocol, however, I began to have some painfully intrusive side effects. My joints became swollen and achy, insomnia and I got to know each other quite well, nausea became a daily visitor and my weight ballooned to an uncomfortable level. I felt like I had the flu four days a week, and couldn’t fit into my clothes anymore – talk about adding insult to injury!
By this point, I’d left my office job in favor of doing background work on a TV program. I’d moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to pursue an acting career and I felt that wasting time, stressed out in a cubicle may have been what pushed my body into revolt after nearly 3 years. One of the perks of the TV job was the Summer Hiatus. Having nearly two months off every year meant I could have time to assess my life and make adjustments where I saw fit. Shortly before this hiatus, my boyfriend and I had quit smoking. We’re both singers, so smoking didn’t help anything. My roommate at the time was still a smoker, so during hiatus, I spent as much time as possible outside of the house. This meant taking two 2.5 mile walks each day, around the neighborhood, going to the farmer’s markets as often as I could, buying plants and planting seeds for the new lifestyle I wanted to create.
When the weight started to (verrry slowly) come off, I decided to take initiative and make some more changes. After researching the ABC meds, in depth, I realized how damaging the side effects could be in the long term. MS is an inflammatory disorder of the nervous system. The symptoms can be very much like the side effects I was having with Avonex, and after the first year of treatment, I began having symptoms again, just as debilitating as the initial ones that led to the diagnosis. So, I decided to wean myself off the medication. Immediately, my body began to shrink back into my favorite clothes, the pains and flu-like symptoms disappeared and though I was nervous about the possible outcome of any future MS attacks, I felt much more comfortable in my skin again.
Shortly after I’d moved to LA, my doctor had told me I had a “problem with dairy.” She didn’t explain exactly what that problem was, but through process of elimination, I’d discovered that casein, a milk protein, was my issue. This explained why even during my moments of veganism, eating artificial cheeses (many of which include this protein) still gave me eczema. This inflammatory skin condition often indicates that there is some unresolved inflammation inside the body. So, I gave up all dairy products; cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and even goat’s milk cheeses and yogurts (cheese and yogurt being the only dairy products I’d consume) were all off-limits. I dropped the last of the excess weight (and more), the rashes went away and insomnia left me alone. When hiatus was over, I returned looking great and feeling even better!
In the years since making all these baseline changes, I’ve had a few moments of weakness around cheese (Humboldt Fog, blue-veined goat’s cheese, in particular!), which always lead to an eczema outbreak. I’ve had some success with homeopathy, making those outbreaks less severe and the few MS attacks I’ve had far less impactful than they would’ve been before. I’ve also found new ways of managing the MS attacks, which involve nutritional supplementation. Last year, during and extremely stressful few months, I lost vision in my right eye. It took about three days for my vision to go away completely, but when I had to start missing work, I panicked. I called my doctor, who gave me the emergency number for an ophthalmologist she knew dealt with MS patients. She calmly asked me what I was doing for the MS and advised me to double up on my Omega-3’s. Four days later, I could see!! Nothing that other doctors had prescribed had ever worked so fast or so thoroughly.
So, what foods were key to my transformation? I’d started with Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8-Weeks to Optimal Health protocol. It’s a fabulous entree into the anti-inflammatory lifestyle. However, whenever I’m faced with “8-Weeks, 21-Days, 6-Months-to-Whatever“, I look at it as a finite program, one that will end and release me back into my former habits. After getting off the ABC-med-mill, I couldn’t afford for this lifestyle to end. Sometime around week-6, after I’d added some new wellness tools to my arsenal, I decided to go it alone, using Dr. Weil’s program as a reference. I was buying most of my food at the Farmer’s Market and preparing it very simply, in order to experience the flavors of these items, fully. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables …and a little fish. That’s mainly what I’ve been eating to keep my body is happy. Olive oil, salt and pepper were my main adornments and the food was cooked on a grill pan or baked with lemons and herbs. I’ve never been a huge fan of steamed vegetables, so greens were sautéed lightly, with olive oil and citrus juice or veggie broth.
Since then, my MS “attacks” have dwindled to, at most, one per year, and I hesitate to refer to them as “attacks” anymore. They’re now much milder and I’m proud to say, I’m mostly asymptomatic.
Here are a few recipes I started making when I made the big dietary changes. They’re still in regular rotation and keep me feeling fine.
This is the simplest recipe I could possibly offer. The only problem? It’s super-seasonal. As nutty and Autumnal as the flavor is, fresh Porcini only tend to show up in the spring and early summer.
Heat grill pan to medium. Slice mushrooms from top to bottom, about ¼” thick, trying to keep them intact. Brush one side with a thin layer of olive oil; sprinkle with a little salt and even less pepper. Place porcini on the hot pan, and oil and season the other side. When the grill marks are to your satisfaction, flip the mushrooms and finish cooking on the other side (1-3 minutes). That’s it. This is my favorite way to prepare these seasonal gems. Their rich, nutty flavor is highlighted and their meatiness brings some sassy umami to your meal. I’ve served them next to a salad (I don’t want the dressing to get in the way of their deliciousness) and as a side dish for the next recipe.
One small sockeye or coho salmon, head and bones removed
2 Cloves Garlic, pressed or diced finely and divided
1 Lemon, zested and sliced into rounds
1 c. chopped Herbs (sage, parsley and tarragon, combined)
1 Shallot, small dice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°. Make three slashes in the skin of the salmon on each side, and season the exterior with salt, making sure some gets into the cuts. Season the cavity of the salmon with salt and pepper. Combine one diced/pressed garlic clove with half the lemon zest and 1 tsp. olive oil. Coat the cavity of the fish with this mixture. Combine the herbs with the other garlic clove and the shallot. Fill the cavity with the herb mixture, sprinkling any excess over the exterior. Lay lemon slices in your baking dish, and place the salmon on top of them. Place any extra rounds on top of the fish. Bake for 30-35 minutes. This recipe also works well with Trout. My mouth is watering as I write this! This is a dish I like to make at Thanksgiving, replacing the lemon with an orange. It’s a Seattle thing J
This can be a dessert or just an extremely succulent snack. This recipe is written for one serving, but you can adapt it for more.
1 medium Apple (Granny Smith, Fiji, Rome…whatever you love)
2 Tbsp. Butter (or your favorite substitute)
3 large, fresh Sage leaves, sliced or torn
2 Tbsp. slivered, sliced or crumbled nuts (I like pecans, almonds or walnuts)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt, just a pinch
Black Pepper, coarsely ground
Preheat oven to 375°. Cut apple in half, horizontally, and scoop out the seedy center with a melon baller. Squeeze lemon juice over the cut sides of the apple, to prevent browning and set the apple aside in a baking dish. In a small skillet, melt the butter. When the foam is gone, add the sage leaves. When the sage is almost crispy (their sizzle will have slowed significantly), add the nuts and season with salt and pepper. When the nuts have begun to brown, remove the pan from the heat and spoon this filling into the apple halves. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on how soft you want your apple). Finish with more black pepper, if you like, and enjoy!
*You could also bake the apple without the filling, and add it at the end. The nuts and sage won’t get as dark as they are in the picture.
What dietary measures do you like to take to manage your health?
Which recipes will you try to decrease inflammation in your own body?
Let’s keep this conversation going!