Medicines are just one way to manage secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS). A few lifestyle changes, like a well-balanced diet and exercise, can also help out with your symptoms and make you feel better.
Change the Way You Eat
No single eating plan has been proven to relieve MS symptoms. You want to be cautious about following an extra rigid diet that could rob you of many nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Instead of switching to a new diet, change your current eating habits by adding foods that help reduce inflammation.
Focus on good fats. Fats can be harmful or helpful, depending on which type you eat. Cut back on saturated fats, which are found in animal-based foods like burgers, cheese, and whole milk.
Replace them with healthier unsaturated fats from foods like:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel
- Canola oil and other vegetable oils
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Add some color to your meals. Broccoli, peppers, carrots, berries, and other produce are packed with plant nutrients that might help slow MS disease activity. Try to eat two to four servings of fruit and three to four servings of veggies every day.
Limit salt. The research is mixed. Some studies show that a high-salt diet leads to more severe MS symptoms, while others don't. But because too much salt raises the chances that you'll get high blood pressure and heart disease, it makes sense to stick with the American Heart Association's guideline of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. That's about 1 teaspoon of salt.
Many years ago, doctors told people with MS to avoid exercise because they thought it might make their symptoms worse. Today, experts say physical activity is not only safe, but it has lots of benefits if you have MS.
A regular workout can help:
- Strengthen your muscles and joints
- Improve your ability to walk and stay balanced
- Fight fatigue and depression
- Increase your flexibility
Make aerobic exercises -- the kind that gets your heart pumping, like walking or swimming -- part of your routine. Also do strength training with light bands or weights. And don't forget to stretch to keep your muscles and joints limber.
When you work out, make sure you don't overdo it, since that can lead to more fatigue. A physical therapist can teach you how to do exercises the right way. Look for someone who has experience working with people who have MS.
Keep Your Weight Under Control
A few changes to your diet and exercise program can also help manage your weight. Carrying around extra pounds makes MS symptoms like fatigue worse. Being overweight also puts extra stress on your joints.
If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor for tips to help you trim a few pounds. Dropping just 10% of your body weight could help you feel better.
Smoking makes your symptoms worse and speeds up the pace at which your disease gets more severe. If you're a lifelong smoker and you've tried to quit in the past, ask your doctor to suggest methods that might help.
Can Supplements Help?
Some people with SPMS turn to supplements to ease their symptoms. A few vitamins and nutrients have shown promise for treating MS. The trouble is, the FDA doesn't regulate supplements with the same rigor as drugs, so it's not always clear how well they work and how safe they are. And some supplements can cause side effects.
Check with your doctor before you try any supplements, such as these:
Vitamin D. It partners with calcium to keep your bones strong. It might also act on your immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- to curb inflammation.
In a few studies, people with low vitamin D levels were more likely to get MS attacks and develop new areas of damage called lesions on their brain and spinal cord. Taking vitamin D supplements may help, but it hasn't been proven.
A blood test can show whether your body is low in vitamin D. If you are, your doctor may suggest a supplement to bring your levels back up to normal.
Biotin. This B vitamin helps your body convert food into energy and protects your skin and nails. In some studies, high doses improved symptoms in people with progressive forms of MS. Yet in other studies, a few people got worse while on the supplement.
If you're thinking about taking biotin, check with your doctor first. This supplement could affect the results of certain lab tests.
Antioxidants. Harmful molecules called free radicals damage cells in your body and may be involved in MS. Antioxidant vitamins like A, C, and E help fight the damage they cause.
Researchers still don't know whether antioxidant supplements might slow MS or improve its symptoms. One worry is that because antioxidants ramp up the immune system, they might make the disease worse.
Until doctors know more about the effects of antioxidants on MS, it's safer to get them from fruits and vegetables rather than supplements.
Probiotics. A mix of healthy and harmful bacteria normally live in your gut. Research shows that people with MS have more of a harmful type of bacteria that adds to inflammation.
Probiotics have "good" bacteria and might help restore the balance in your gut. These supplements might cut the physical and emotional symptoms of MS. Ask your doctor whether it's worth taking probiotics, and if so, which kind to try.