I started writing this cookbook in 2006, two years after my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My kind, loving, active husband who, at age 47, was suddenly and unexpectedly transformed from a strong, healthy, vibrant man into a person who barely had enough energy to limp from one room to another dragging his left leg behind him; from a man who had no pain, to a man who lived in fear of what he came to describe as “electric shocks running up my legs”; from a man who biked to work each day, to a person I thought I’d have to push around in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
My husband’s first symptom occurred at the post office near our house. In April 2004, around 9 a.m., the phone in our house rang. When I picked it up and heard the voice on the other end, I knew it was my husband but it didn’t sound at all like him.
Within a second I could hear the strangeness and the urgency in his voice, urgency mixed with fear. What is it, where are you? ... I’m at the post office, I need you to come and get me”. The post office was around the corner from the house but something told me to bring the car. Within seconds, I was out the door and in the car. Within 2-3 minutes, I was standing in front of my husband outside the post office. He looked very strange. His whole body was moving in slow motion and though he was able to talk to me it was obvious that he was profoundly confused and disorientated. He kept touching his body, mostly his legs, and telling me he was all right. We spent a few more minutes in front of the post office, then I helped him get into the car and drove us home. On the way there he told me he thought he’d had a stroke or a heart attack and tried to explain what had happened ... “I was late for work so I started to run to the train station. All of a sudden my legs felt heavy, I could hardly move them, I started to walk and then I lost control of my legs completely and could not walk at all.”
When we got home, he got out of the car and walked slowly and tentatively up the stairs into the house. I called our family doctor who told me to bring him to the office immediately. We walked back to the car and I drove to her office, which was about 20 minutes away. No more than an hour had passed since I had picked my husband up at the post office. The doctor asked a lot of questions and then tested my husband’s strength, reflexes, balance, orientation, and range of movement. She concluded that it was not a stroke and that his heart was fine. She sent us home with a warning to bring him in immediately should anything similar or irregular happen again.
For a few days after that nothing strange occurred in my husband’s body and we allowed ourselves to relax a bit. I distinctly remember the feeling we both had – one part of our minds thought it was a strange aberration that would not happen again; the other part of our minds knew something was terribly wrong. About a week later my husband got up in the morning and after a few minutes he told me he felt a profound heaviness in his left arm and leg. I’d known something was wrong because the day before I’d noticed that he was dragging his left foot behind him when he entered the house and walked from the front door to the living room. I hadn’t said anything at the time but I had an awful feeling that bigger problems were coming. The heaviness in my husband’s arm and leg remained and a few days later he began to feel extreme fatigue and, worse than anything else, he had his first seizure. We called it a “seizure” because it would start with his getting a strange feeling in his leg, after which the leg would begin to tremble and the pain would gradually increase to an unbearable crescendo that would last for a few minutes and then subside. My husband described it as “being plugged into an electric socket and tortured for 2-3 minutes.”
Four weeks later, after the seizures had increased to 6 to 8 times a day, after the leg dragging had become constant, after the fatigue had zapped him of all energy, after seeing six medical specialists and taking multiple tests, and after the fear we felt had become unbearable, my husband received the results of his first MRI test in the mail. Before showing them to me, my husband spent the entire night doing research on his computer to learn whatever he could about the main medical finding – demyelination. e next morning he took me outside and told me that the doctor had confirmed what we had both already concluded from our research – he had multiple sclerosis.
My mother was staying with us at the time so she knew that something serious was going on with my husband’s body, but like us she was waiting for a formal medical diagnosis. So after my husband told me the results of the medical tests, and we’d sat outside on the front steps and cried for about a half an hour, we went inside to the dining room where my mother was eating breakfast to break the news to her. “It’s multiple sclerosis mami”, I told her with tears running down my face. I watched her take a deep breath, and then looking intently at me, she calmly but firmly made the statement that determined my entire attitude towards this illness – “okay, so what are we going to do about it?
At the time, I didn’t have an answer to that question, but my mother’s practical attitude helped me understand what I needed to do. I got up from the table where she was sitting determined to focus every bit of energy I had on learning as much as I could about multiple sclerosis, its origins, its treatments, and what I could do to help my husband deal with the illness and the symptoms. My main resource was the Internet. Every spare minute I’d log on and search for articles on MS. I read everything I could find – medical journals from around the world, websites created by non-pro t organizations, newspaper and magazine articles, sites created by people who had MS, and sites created by family members whose loved ones had MS.
I quickly discovered that there are dozens of associations devoted to multiple sclerosis and thousands of websites that provide medical information on multiple sclerosis. Initially, all of the information I came across focused on allopathic (western) medicine and medical treatments, with a main focus on interferons.
As I read the literature, I learned that “multiple sclerosis” is a catch-all phrase that western doctors use to explain a conglomeration of symptoms that are associated with depletion of the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is composed of protein and lipids; it is the insulating sheath that surrounds the core of a nerve and is essential to proper functioning of the nervous system. The main function of myelin is to protect and insulate the nerves and enhance their transmission of electrical impulses. If the myelin is damaged, the transmission of these impulses is affected, which can happen in neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition which involves a person’s own immune cells attacking their myelin sheath, stripping the myelin from the nerve fibers it protects, which leaves the fibers exposed and uninsulated. When myelin is destroyed, the nerves become less efficient at transmitting nerve impulses. These unprotected nerves are less able to conduct electrical impulses from the brain to other parts of the body and the nerve signals sent to the brain are delayed and distorted. Hard scar tissue (which is called “sclerosis”) can form in the area of the nerve that is damaged where the myelin has been destroyed, and this can further disrupt the conduction capacity of the nerve. Scarred areas are referred to as “plaques” that can be identified using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), providing western doctors with information on the myelin sheath that they use to come up with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
I also learned that according to the American Medical Association there is no cure for myelin depletion or multiple sclerosis. e medications doctors prescribe for people diagnosed with MS are designed to treat the symptoms, reduce the frequency of relapses, and slow the progression of the disease; they do not cure the disease. Though these medications prescribed to treat multiple sclerosis are helpful to many people, they have a range of side effects that include depression, impotency, fatigue, fever, chills, muscle aches, abdominal and stomach pains, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, swelling of the hands and feet, skin rash, double vision, increased urge to urinate, vomiting, and continual runny nose, among others side effects.
While I was spending every spare minute reading and learning about multiple sclerosis, my husband’s health was deteriorating. His seizures were coming more frequently. He was feeling more and more fatigued. He was losing strength and function in his legs and arms, and the anxiety and fear he was experiencing was increasing. He carried a leather keychain in his pocket at all times so he could bite down on it to deal with the pain brought on by the seizures and he was so afraid of a having a seizure at night that he literally held himself as rigid as possible when he tried to fall asleep in case they were triggered by movement. We began talking about renting a wheelchair and I had visions of spending the rest of my life wheeling him wherever he needed to go.
All of the doctors he was meeting with were urging my husband to start taking western medications to treat his symptoms. It was tempting, but I’d done the research so I knew that the medications they were recommending had a range of problematic the side effects that included both depression and impotency. My thinking was that at this point in our lives, adding depression and impotency to my husband’s list of problems was simply not acceptable for either of us. So at this point in the illness, my short-term goal was to find alternative ways to reduce my husband’s seizures and pain and treat his fatigue. My long-term goal was to understand the root causes of multiple sclerosis, so we could treat the illness and help my husband become strong and vibrant again.
One night while I was searching the Internet for information, I came across an article I had not seen before. e article was written by Roger MacDougall, a well-known British playwright who became so debilitated by multiple sclerosis that he was unable to work and was con ned to a wheelchair. After several years of taking a range of western medications for his MS symptoms, but not experiencing improvement, MacDougall and his primary care physician made the decision to radically change his diet. In the article, MacDougall describes how he worked with this physician to identify and make significant changes in his diet and how his health gradually improved as a result. Within a few months after changing his diet, MacDougall had significantly increased energy and was able to walk on his own, and returned to work. You can read his article at
This was the information I’d been searching for! MacDougall’s approach was the first non-medication based approach to multiple sclerosis that I had come across. It was also the first approach I’d read about that focused on using diet and vitamins to shift the body’s chemistry and modify its diseased state.
When I first learned about MacDougall’s diet, I had no idea how it worked. What excited me was the fact that someone who had been devastated by the complex array of symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis was reporting that altering his diet coincided with greatly improved health and vitality within several months. It was clear to me that my husband and our family had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from trying to treat his illness and symptoms by changing his diet.
MacDougall’s dietary change completely eliminated diary and gluten and reduced his consumption of sugar and red meat. He also took blood tests that identified his vitamin and mineral levels and deficiencies, and took vitamins that addressed these deficiencies. the diet I created for my husband was more radical; it eliminates all diary, grains, legumes, red meat, shell fish, sugar, and caffeine.