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How I Created an Integrative Approach to Managing My MS

As a nutrition coach living with Multiple Sclerosis, I’ve cast a wide net on how to best manage the disease while living my most independent and vibrant life. I want the best of both worlds – eastern and western medicine.

I take an integrative approach in that I incorporate both traditional medicine as well as take a very proactive role in creating daily habits to always maintain my highest level of health.

I noticed, however, a sharp contrast between traditional medicine’s approach to disease management versus a holistic approach.

So as a patient that wanted to merge the two worlds together, I quickly discovered the responsibility was on me to ensure I was doing so in a safe and effective way.

I needed to seek out the best professionals who also aligned with my desired path to disease management. What came to fruition was the best-trained health care professionals and services ranging from a neurologist and physical therapist to acupuncture and cryotherapy. Some providers shared a similar mindset on integrative care. However, this wasn’t the case for all.

It, unfortunately, wasn’t the case with my neurologist. While he’s likely one of the top clinically-trained neurologists, he lacked bedside manner and respect from my interest in diet and lifestyle habits to improve my health.

In this situation, I had a decision to make. I could seek out a new neurologist or reset my expectations for his role.

I chose the latter.

I decided I would focus my appointments with him just on clinical evaluations, lab work, etc. And as much as I wanted to avoid initiating conversations about my diet and lifestyle habits, I still wanted to keep him informed. I just went in knowing I was keeping him informed, not seeking his approval on these topics.

This is important to me – and hopefully others in this situation too – that despite his personal opinion, he still knows the full picture of me.

I was incredibly grateful I took this path when I was experiencing a significant bout of MS fatigue one hot summer.

I called the office to see if it was of a bigger concern, which it thankfully wasn’t, their solution was a prescription. I believe strongly that there is a place in this world for medicine, however, I personally didn’t want it to be my first line of defense for this fatigue.

I did some research and discovered a compelling study on the benefits of cryotherapy in managing MS fatigue. The study was relatively limited but it was sound nonetheless.

This was a great opportunity for me to have a conversation with my neurologist in a way that he would likely be more receptive.

I sent a link to the study through the patient portal and got the green light from him.

Did I need his buy-in?

No.

I certainly could have done it on my own, however, I believe it overcommunicating when it comes to managing a chronic illness.

In fact, I even call the pharmacist to confirm that cryotherapy wouldn’t impact the way my body processes my medication.

Again, it was an extra step, but it gave me peace of mind that despite what traditional medicine believed about cryotherapy, there wasn’t a potential adverse reaction that I wasn’t aware of.

The result? I got tremendous relief from the fatigue.

Until the two worlds of traditional and holistic medicine merge closer together, the greater responsibility is on the patient to ensure every provider on their care team is aware of the full picture.

As the saying goes, a good relationship always starts with good communication.


Alene Brennan has been featured in USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Huffington Post and Mind Body Green. Alene overcame debilitating migraine headaches through diet and lifestyle and is now once again using a “Less Pharm, More Table” approach is managing her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Alene holds four certifications: Nutrition Coach, Yoga Instructor, Personal Trainer and Natural Food Chef. She also completed specialized training in nutrition for autoimmune disease specifically the Wahls Protocol and the Autoimmune Protocol. Since receiving her MS diagnosis and seeing first-hand the power of using diet and lifestyle to create a healing environment in the body, she dedicated her virtual nutrition coaching practice to helping people with MS and autoimmune diseases take back control of their health. Visit her website, alenebrennan.com.

MFN Contributing Author