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Beating MS may sometimes require being smarter than your doctor October 5, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Hoover in Uncategorized.


Every neurologist I have seen likes a hammer and tuning fork. Personally, I prefer some sensible laboratory tests. I suggest these for the savvy person with MS.


(This post was written for use on the wonderful website Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis of medical professor George Jelinek, M.D. I encourage you to visit that website too.)

As someone with multiple sclerosis (MS), I have noticed that some neurologists do not bother keeping up with research or can get lazy about working to enhance wellness for those with MS. For this reason, I think it is usually wise to consider being a pro-active patient and sometimes a pest. This is called “being your own best advocate”.

As part of being your own best advocate, planning a periodic checkup checklist is a good idea because it can help you increase your wellness. Below are the laboratory tests that I suggest when appropriate. If you recommend others, please leave a comment. We can all learn from each other!!

Mercury — If you have been around broken thermostats or thermometers containing mercury or if you eat a lot of fish, it is wise to request testing of your mercury levels at a periodic checkup. Mercury can cause neurological symptoms similar to those caused by MS. For more information on the mercury issue, the Food and Drug Administration in the USA has an excellent table showing Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish. I usually eat only salmon and sardines because they are relatively low in mercury.

Lead — When I was first diagnosed my neurologist ordered a test to determine the level of lead in my system. Those who are exposed to higher levels of lead from paints, etc., are wise to have this test done at least once too.

Arsenic — If you work in one of the construction trades around materials that are treated with arsenic, it is smart to include an arsenic test in an annual checkup. Arsenic can cause severe neurological problems such as memory problems and anyone working in the trades using arsenic coated lumber, for example, needs periodic tests for arsenic poisoning. (Coatings for lumber used in decks often contain arsenic in some parts of the world.) If you have too much arsenic in your body, you will want to address this problem promptly.

Vitamin B12 — Many, for some poorly understood reason, do not absorb vitamin B12 well even if there are adequate supplies of vitamin B12 in the diet. Since a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause neurological problems similar to those caused by MS, it is important to have your level tested at least a few times to ensure that your level is always at the higher end of the normal range. More than one case of vitamin B12 deficiency has been misdiagnosed as MS. Also, if your B12 level is low, you will feel better if you correct this deficiency.

Vitamin B6 — Vitamin B6 does not get discussed much but low levels of vitamin B6 are quite common. I discovered a few years ago my own level was running low after I experienced what seemed to be MS related problems with my feet and some nasty arthritis pain. Fortunately, I happened to see an article about vitamin B6 deficiencies so I requested a test and, sure enough, my level was low.

Like the other B vitamin deficiencies, a vitamin B6 deficiency can cause problems similar to those found in MS. Specifically, vitamin B6 deficiencies can cause neuropathy in the extremities, often the feet. Also, low levels of vitamin B6 can cause worsening of arthritis. For these reasons, an annual vitamin B6 test for at least a few times is smart. This is more important as we age because vitamins do not absorb as well in older individuals. If you do find out that you have a vitamin B6 deficiency, do be careful about not taking too much vitamin B6 as I did. (I now know the effects of too much B6, pins and needles, etc., in the extremities. Fortunately, I have figured out the amount of B6 I must take to keep my level at the the higher end of the normal range — and my arthritis pain has largely disappeared.)

Vitamin D — Of course we all know about the importance of vitamin D to those with MS so not much needs to be said. If you know how to keep your vitamin D level at the high end of the normal range, a vitamin D test once a year is still a good idea. If you are having problems keeping your vitamin D level at the high end of the normal range, vitamin D tests once every three months until you have mastered the art of achieving a healthy vitamin D level are wise.

Lyme’s Disease — More than one case of MS has turned out to be Lyme’s Disease, a treatable disease. I suggest that anyone who has possibly been exposed to the virus causing this disease have the test to rule out Lyme’s Disease.

That’s it. Those are the tests I recommend. I hope other can share any recommendations they have too. It is interesting that our doctors often focus on disease while we focus on increasing wellness. Personally, I think our approach works better and the research increasingly suggests our wellness oriented approach is smart. We are so far ahead of the doctors in many ways!

It is interesting that some doctors will be reluctant to order needed laboratory tests. I have encountered this problem myself and offer two suggestions for dealing with it. First, if a doctor is just too difficult, a new doctor is a good idea. In other cases, the doctor needs some education because not all doctors are MS specialists and many just are not up-to-date in the treatment of MS. I know one doctor who was a bit reluctant to order needed vitamin D tests, for example, but when she learned about the importance of vitamin D to those with MS, she started ordering the tests regularly. Sometimes we have to educate the doctors as part of being our own best advocates.

Viva la healthy living! Remember: nothing will make you look drop dead gorgeous faster than following an MS diet and an ultra healthy lifestyle.

Please let me know if you find my blog helpful. Please add a comment. What did you like? What would you like added? Thanks! Together we can change the way the world views MS. Please also join the Intelligent Guide to MS page on Facebook. I will use that page to make timely posts on new research and other issues likely to be of interest to others.

Please remember to consult your with doctors about how to stay as healthy as possible. Nothing here should be interpreted as medical advice. Instead, please use the information you find here in your discussions with your doctor.

Copyright 2010 Rebecca Hoover

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