Diet, exercise prove helpful in treating MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects at least 400,000 Americans and two million people worldwide. It is a chronic inflammatory disorder that targets the brain and spinal cord. Specifically, the immune system attacks the insulation around nerves as if attacking a foreign object.

MS often presents with symptoms of visual loss in one eye, weakness, numbness, double vision or difficulty walking. The course of the illness is typically marked by periods of deterioration lasting days or weeks followed by remission.

Approximately 15 percent of patients have a progressive unremitting course of illness.

Although there is no cure for MS, there has been tremendous progress in the development and use of disease-modifying medications that increase the length of the symptom-free periods. The goal of treatment is to redirect the immune system.

In addition to medications, several other modalities in the form of diet and exercise have been proven to be helpful in treating MS.

MS is most commonly found in temperate climates where exposure to sunlight is reduced. Vitamin D supplements have been shown to be helpful in treatment.

Diets rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables with reduced intake of processed sugars and red meat is optimal.

Interestingly, regular physical exercise has also demonstrated a beneficial effect in maintaining patients’ neurologic function. Moderate aerobic exercise combined with light resistance exercise has proven to be an effective regimen. Overheating the body from vigorous exercise or use of a hot tub can be detrimental.

“A structured exercise regimen that allows for gradually increased intensity under the guidance of a physical therapist and a physician can provide a benefit for patients with MS and other neurologic diseases,” reports Dr. Vernon Williams, Director of Sports Neurology at the Kerman-Jobe Clinic.

MS patients should consider multiple treatment modalities.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at

Go slow with new exercise routine

Among the most popular New Year resolutions is weight loss. Beginning or resuming an exercise program after a long lay-off can result in significant injury that will impact a weight-loss program.

Exercise is an intricate part in regulating how much a human eats, drinks and sleeps. It dates back to hunting and gathering activities. In addition to these essential functions, exercise is key to cardiovascular, neurologic and mental health. Recent studies have also indicated that exercise has a protective effect against certain forms of cancer and dementia.

One pressing question remains: “How much exercise is needed to acquire the potential health benefits?” The best current data indicates that even light exercise can provide a big advantage.

Recent studies indicate that consistent daily activities including dog walking, housework, opting for stairs instead of an elevator or even performing home chores can result in improved overall longevity. The greatest benefit comes from 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity. This level of activity can reduce the risk of death by 50 percent.

One of the first steps toward a healthy activity program is to incorporate more standing and less sitting. The human body was not designed to withstand the stresses of prolonged sitting. Modifying a workstation to allow for periods of standing can produce a positive result.

An enthusiastic return to the gym should be tempered by the potential for injury. Light aerobic exercise in the form of walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike at low resistance or using an elliptical machine at no incline can be a good introduction.

Measuring steps with the use of a variety of technologic devices can provide a big boost to a walking program. A goal of 10,000 steps per day is ideal but any steps are a move in the right direction.

The operative message to beginning a safe exercise regimen is to get the approval of a physician and start slow.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at