Following on from a recent article on Brain Health, I have been researching and analysing the effects of brain fog and the likely consequences of our cognitive performance by the occurrence of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) lesions and the link to brain damage.
The brain is a very elastic and resilient organ but, it can also be very fragile. Only today, 24th Oct 2016, there was a report on the television news that claimed that just heading a ball whilst playing football or soccer can cause detectable, measurable brain impairment.
I am acutely aware of my relentless mental decline and to say it is causing me some concern would be a massive understatement. I, for many years, lived with the understanding that although MS would affect my motor control (my ability to walk and move generally) I had long assumed it would not affect my brain.
Now, I wish to be cautious and not cause alarm, but, multiple sclerosis: a mental disorder, that has got to be wrong! MS is a neurological condition, it is a demyelinating disease. Yes it is but, neurology is to do with the brain. The nerves that are being demyelinated can be in the brain or spinal cord.
I am sure all of us with MS are aware of lesions, which is a scarring on the brain or spinal cord. Occasionally, patients can have lesions only in the spinal cord, leaving the brain unaffected. These patients will be said to have spinal MS, a term, I confess, I have not heard of before.
As I recall, when I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan which revealed scarring of my brain tissue. The neurologist, at the time, referred to this scarring as shadowing. I guess he was playing it down to avoid alarming me.
I also had a lumbar puncture to test my spinal fluid for the presence of certain proteins. These proteins were present and I deduce from that that this was indicative of immune system activity breaking down the myelin sheath. This would suggest that I did have spinal lesions although I did not have a scan to show them.
Brain Damage caused by lesions
Let’s be careful about the semantics of what we are saying here. Is MS causing brain damage? Sadly, yes it is. The immune system is, mistakenly, attacking the myelin (protective sheath) that surrounds the nerves of the central nervous system (CNS). When this occurs it can damage the nerves and the neural pathways of the brain. It can cause inflammation and damage (demyelination) leaving a scar or lesion.
From this, it should be apparent that the lesion is not causing the brain damage, rather the lesion is a result of the brain damage caused by the body’s own immune system.
Take Action while you can
The brain is an incredibly resilient, flexible, adaptive organ. Despite what you may have been told, or given to understand, your brain’s development does not stop when you reach adulthood. Yes, MS is causing brain damage but, you can mitigate the detrimental effect this will have on your life.
Consult with your medical practitioner to see what treatments are currently available. While you are still considered to have elapse/remitting MS there are a number of disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that are available. Most of these are designed to reduce the number of relapses. Do not do, as I did, discount these possible treatments because of the side-effects and the misconception that relapses are just a nuisance.
Relapses are a sure sign of disease activity and the creation of lesions. These lesions are certain evidence of brain damage. They may be slight but they are cumulative and continued certainty of progression.
If you have had an MRI scan which showed lesions indicative of brain damage, then you almost certainly have MS. Now, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Do not bury your head in the sand. Do not hope it will go away.
Feed your brain and your mitochondria
Diet is important to all aspects of your health. Yes, we live in a fast-paced world where few of us have the time or the inclination to cook proper, good, nutritious meals every day. But that is a situation that we all need to address.
Especially if you have MS or any other chronic autoimmune condition, a good diet is likely to be your best friend, your saviour. I cannot stress the importance of diet enough.
The government directive that we should all have our five-a-day, is not some political wrangling. it is an important health message. I’m sure we have heard the line that fish is brain food. It very mush is and I, personally, try to eat fish at least twice a week.
It helps that I like fish, although this has not always been the case. As a child, I detested fish and even fish fingers were consumed under sufferance.
Fruit and vegetables are also incredibly nutritious. I have a bowl of fresh fruit every single day. And I have grown to love my green vegetables; spinach, savoy cabbage and kale.
All of these food-stuffs are incredibly good for feeding your mitochondria. But what is mitochondria? I confess I had not heard of it before I read the excellent book by Dr Terry Wahls entitled the Wahls Protocol. In this book, Dr Wahls explains that the mitochondria is an element of almost every cell in the human body. It is this element that is responsible for the production of energy needed to maintain optimum cell health.
I am quite certain that the discovery of the Wahls Protocol changed my MS prognosis. At the time my health was bad, very bad, I honestly thought my time had come. I had no energy. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come into the office to write my Blog. I was a couch potato. I dragged my self out of bed in the morning. I sat on the couch and watched TV, looked at social media on my tablet and then went back to bed.
Within a few weeks of adopting this dietary regime I had found new energy, my walking was improved and my mental alertness was sharpened. It was a remarkable transformation. And all this achieved by a simple change in my eating habits.
This was back in late 2014, and I have continued being extra careful with my diet, albeit I have not complied fully with the Wahls Protocol guidelines. But, what it did, was to revive my belief that I could do something about multiple sclerosis.
How did diet lead to brain damage research?
Only indirectly, did the revelation about the dietary contribution to my health, lead me to start considering the cerebral implications. By this time, I was acutely aware that I was getting more and more forgetful, that my thinking processes were slowing down and that I was floating around in a daze more and more frequently.
Of course, my first thought was that I was getting older, I was in my mid-fifties. BUT, hang on a minute, fifty-something isn’t old. My parents are both still alive and in their eighties. My mother has MS and OK she is also more than a little fogetful but she is active and reasonably healthy.
As a result of reading Dr Terry Wahl’s book The Wahls Protocol, I had become aware of the need to feed my mitochondria. This is the need to ensure I am getting the essential nutrients to have fully-functioning, optimally-performing, healthy cells in my body.
This also has very real implications for brain health. If brain cells are not working optimally and are not reproducing correctly then neurological reserve is lost.
Neurological reserve is a term used to describe the brain’s capacity for expansion. This is the ability for the brain to establish new neural connections improving the communication between key areas of the brain.
If brain function is lost or degraded by brain damage then it is this neurological reserve that will determine how effectively the brain can compensate for any damage caused by physical trauma or, indeed, MS brain lesions.
Exercise your mind
You hear all the time about the importance of mental exercise. But, why is mental exercise important? It stems back to the ideas that the brain is elastic. It needs to be stretched. It needs to grow.
You have this vast expanse of neurological reserve. It is this that will be your saviour in the fight against multiple sclerosis and the cognitive impairment it can bring about.
As we get older, especially if we have multiple sclerosis, the brain function starts to falter. The thinking process slows and we start to get forgetful. This is not inevitable, we can do something to mitigate against it.
Learn to do something new. Take up badminton, learn to play chess, learn to speak a new language. These are all activities that will tax your mind and start to utilise some of your neurological reserve.
Multiple Sclerosis is causing you brain damage. This may sound melodramatic and scare-mongering. It is not, it is a reality. The sooner you start to take action, the better your outcome will be.