By Dr. Mercola
The inspiring documentary "The Healing of Heather Garden" underscores the value of taking personal responsibility for your health after you've been diagnosed with a serious illness, but I recommend you start sooner than that.
At the age of 27, Heather Garden, an athletic Canadian woman, was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your body's healthy cells.
The year was 1991, and Garden's doctors told her she would never walk again and would become increasingly more disabled over time. Doctors told Garden there was "no cure" and "no hope."
Despite taking conventional treatments for about five years, Garden continued to deteriorate. When she began losing her eyesight and doctors suggested she may spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, Garden became motivated to create her own program for healing.
Healing Begins by Addressing Your Lifestyle
Some of the approaches she tried are among those I have spoken about for many years:
- Eating fresh, whole foods
- Eliminating pasteurized dairy, sugar, as well as all processed foods
- Focusing on emotional healing
- Increasing her intake of key vitamins and minerals
Let's take a closer look at what causes MS and how you can best address it. Even more than that, by focusing on specific aspects of your diet and lifestyle now, I hope you can prevent MS from becoming become part of your story or the story of someone close to you.
MS: Attacking a Dangerous Intruder That Doesn't Exist
MS is a chronic, degenerative disease of the nerves in your brain and spinal column, caused by a demyelization process, or deterioration of the myelin sheaths. MS results when your immune system thinks the myelin sheaths are a dangerous intruder that must be destroyed.
Myelin is the insulating, waxy substance around the nerves in your central nervous system. When myelin is damaged, the function of your nerves deteriorates over time, meaning that electrical impulses are slowed or stopped as they travel through your nervous system.
As such, communication between your brain, spinal cord and other regions of your body are interrupted. Due to those "communication interruptions," the MS sufferer experiences symptoms such as:
- Imbalance or loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness, spasms or loss of muscular control
- Numbness and tingling in arms and legs
- Problems with cognition or vision
Conventional MS Treatments Are Very Toxic
If you undertake conventional treatment for MS, you should expect your neurologist to routinely prescribe a variety of prescription medications. Drugs and steroids were a big part of Garden's program, and the pain and side effects were horrific.
"I was getting sicker and sicker with the drugs," said Garden. "I was taking a lot of drugs, and then drugs for the side effects of the drugs."1
It is my strong recommendation that you reject a purely pharmaceutical approach to treating MS. The use of drugs alone has not been proven successful in countless other cases, and your best bet is a more balanced and holistic treatment program.
If you're already taking drugs, I suggest you talk to your physician about getting off them. I say that because MS drugs are among the most toxic drugs used in the field of medicine, including:
- Prednisone: a steroid hormone that can significantly impair your immune system, and cause diseases like cataracts and osteoporosis
- Interferon: a natural substance typically administered via painful shots in a dose that shuts down your body's natural immune response
These and other MS drugs do not cure the disease, but they may reduce the frequency and severity of attacks and the development of new brain lesions.
Fortunately, there are many natural treatments that can alleviate, and often reverse, MS symptoms. Even if you are not battling MS, implementing some or all of the following recommendations will positively affect your health.
Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
If you watched the documentary, you know that Garden lived in Canada her entire life — first in Ontario and later in Manitoba. Due to Canada's northern location, its residents receive fewer hours of sunshine and are more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
According to a survey by the MS International Federation, nearly 100,000 Canadians have MS. That rate is 28 percent higher than second-place Denmark and a stunning nine times higher than the global average.2
A campaign by the MS Society of Canada actually branded MS "Canada's disease."3 Canada aside, a large number of studies have confirmed that your risk of MS increases the farther away you live from the equator.4
Lack of exposure to sufficient sunlight was identified as a risk factor for MS as far back as 1922. Information gathered from population studies suggests the relationship between geography or climate and the prevalence of autoimmune disease is "most evident" for MS.
Increased exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays plays a protective role in autoimmune diseases such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.5
Simply stated, if you live in a place where the sun rarely shines or you have limited sun exposure due to the climate, your risk of contracting autoimmune diseases such as MS is heightened.
General Vitamin D Guidelines
The optimal vitamin D level for general health ranges between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). The ideal way to raise your vitamin D is by regularly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine. If you cannot get sufficient UV exposure, taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement along with vitamin K2 and magnesium is highly advisable.
You'll forgo many of the benefits of sun exposure besides vitamin D production, but it's far better than nothing. Keep in mind the only way to determine your ideal dose is by measuring your vitamin D, as it is your blood level that matters, not the oral dose. As a general guideline, vitamin D experts recommend 4,000 IUs per day for adults, but depending on your level, you may need 8,000 IUs or more per day to get into a therapeutic range.
In a pilot study by Johns Hopkins involving 40 people with relapsing-remitting MS, researchers found that vitamin D3 supplementation helped regulate hyperactive immune responses. Study author Dr. Peter Calabresi, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, "These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe and convenient treatment for people with MS."6
Get Regular Exposure to Healthy Full-Spectrum Light
Another beneficial treatment for autoimmune disease is light optimization. Light has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Besides vitamin D production, sun exposure — due to the near-, mid- and far-infrared wavelengths in sunlight — has many biological effects, including but not limited to the following:
- Triggering (via your hypothalamus and pituitary) the secretion of hormones, including those that influence your mood
- Regulating your circadian rhythm, which in turn affects your health
- Altering your genetic expression, including ones that regulate your inflammatory responses. During winter months, inflammatory immune-system genes are activated, which helps combat infectious microbes, and during the summer the activity of anti-inflammatory gene activity increases7
- Increasing nanostructured water in your cells, which aids mitochondrial function and boosts energy production in your cells (ATP)
Some experts even believe that "malillumination" to light is what malnutrition is to food. The best way to get exposure to healthy full-spectrum light is to do it the way nature intended: by going outside as often as possible to expose your bare skin and "bare" eyes to the sun. To learn more about the healing benefits of light, check out my interview with Michael Hamblin about the benefits of near-infrared light.
Clean Up Your Diet by Eliminating Pasteurized Dairy, Grains and Sugar
Another crucial element in the fight against autoimmune disease relates to your food intake. To successfully address MS:
- Eat healthy seafood that is low in toxins like sardines and anchovies as they are loaded with DHA, which is the most important fat in the treatment of MS. Plant-based omega-3 fats do not convert well at all to DHA, and marine-based DHA supplements are not recommended as they are isolated sources of DHA that do not contain the other supporting fatty acids
- Drastically reduce your intake of grains: A study of 72 MS patients and their first-degree relatives revealed an increased prevalence of celiac disease (CD), suggesting the need for early detection and dietary treatment of CD with respect to antibody-positive MS patients8
- Reduce your sugar (especially processed fructose) intake: Healthy individuals are advised to keep their total daily fructose consumption below 25 grams from all sources, but if you're struggling with chronic disease, you may want to consider lowering your limit to 15 grams per day until your condition is under control
If you haven't yet grasped the toxic nature and profound health dangers of sugar, now's the time. Not only does sugar contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, it increases uric acid levels, which leads to chronic, low-level inflammation. Also, don't make the mistake of simply swapping sugar for aspartame or other toxic artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame contains methanol, and since the human body lacks the necessary enzyme to safely break methanol down into formic acid, the methanol breaks down into formaldehyde — a potent neurotoxin — instead. It's this formaldehyde that does most of the damage.
Consider Adopting a Ketogenic Diet
A ketogenic diet involves lowering your net-carbohydrate intake (total carbs minus fiber), while increasing your consumption of healthy fats. By doing so, you will allow your body to start burning fat as its primary fuel rather than sugar. Subsequently, your liver will boost production of ketones, which are a superior source of energy, especially for your brain.
The first step toward a ketogenic diet is to clean up your diet as mentioned above. Remove all processed foods, grains and sugar. Then focus on eating as many raw, whole foods as possible, in addition to plenty of healthy fats. Lowering your net-carb intake while eating high-quality healthy fats is the key to success.
However, it's important to eat the right kind of fats. Avoid the fats most commonly found in the American diet (i.e., the processed fats and vegetable oils used in convenience foods and fast foods. Sources of healthy fats include:
✓ Animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil and small fatty fish like anchovies and sardines
✓ Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil
✓ Olives and olive oil (make sure it's third party-certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils, and only use it cold, not for cooking.)
✓ Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
✓ Organic-pastured egg yolks
✓ Coconuts and coconut oil (excellent for cooking as it can withstand higher temperatures without oxidizing)
✓ Raw cacao butter
✓ Ghee (clarified butter)
✓ Raw nuts, such as macadamia and pecans
✓ Grass-fed meats
✓ Seeds such as black sesame, cumin, hemp and pumpkin
✓ Lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)
Use a Sauna for Detoxification and Pain Relief
Repeated use of a sweat-inducing sauna may facilitate your skin's ability to eliminate toxins from your body and significantly reduce your toxic load over time.
Although downplayed by modern medicine as a means of detoxification, studies have demonstrated the value in sweating to increase the excretion of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.9 In one study, sweating was shown to be more effective for eliminating toxins than urinary excretion. The authors also determined:10
- Sweating may be an important route for excretion of cadmium when an individual is exposed to high levels
- Sweat-inducing sauna use might provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals
- Sweating should be the initial and preferred treatment for patients with elevated mercury levels in their urine
Studies have also documented the effectiveness of sauna use as a valuable clinical tool for autoimmune, cardiovascular, toxicant-induced and other chronic health problems.11 In terms of sauna's benefits for pain relief, a study of 46 patients hospitalized for chronic pain of at least six-months duration revealed that just 15 minutes of sauna therapy five days a week for four weeks reduced patient pain and anger scores.
A follow-up study two years later noted that 77 percent of the sauna-therapy group, as compared to 50 percent of the non-sauna group, had been able to return to work.12 Ideally, look for a full-spectrum infrared sauna with low EMF rating. Remember, there are different healing properties in the various wavelengths that are all beneficial with the right exposure levels.
Use EFT to Address Emotional Traumas
Last but certainly not least, in my experience with MS patients, there is nearly always a precipitating, traumatic emotional event that causes your immune system to crash, leading to the onset of the disease. Uncovering hidden emotional wounds is not only vital to making a full recovery, but also in preventing a future relapse. Paulette Efimenko, one of the alternative-medicine practitioners Garden frequented during her recovery, said:
"In working with people that have physical ailments, it's extremely important to also address emotional and spiritual things that have happened with them in childhood, marriages and any type of relationships they have had. Resolving old issues is a big factor in how they will be able to heal."
Often, this wounding occurred at a very young age, almost always before age 7, but sometimes prior to age 5. My preferred approach to handling emotional issues is the use of the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). If you recently received a gloomy medical diagnosis such as MS check out a short video by Julie Schiffman on how to use EFT to overcome the intense emotions associated with a diagnosis.
About the Director
I believe in bringing quality to my readers, which is why I wanted to share some information about the director, Judith Morrow, from "The Healing of Heather Garden." We sat down with Judith to learn a little more about what goes in to making these films. Thank you to Judith for sharing with us.
What was your inspiration for making this film?
Heather and her friend Kim were the most exciting and vibrant people I knew. I had an eclectic background — community development, school social work, health clinics, youth justice, therapy — while keeping an interest in writing, photography and journalism. I decided to learn documentary filmmaking. Finding out what Heather had done to heal from her "incurable" illness seemed like a good project.
I had no idea it would take 10 years. As I struggled through obstacles, I kept thinking, 'If Heather had done what she did, I could learn to make a documentary to tell her story." One step at a time I entered two new worlds. Filmmakers committed to getting this project done appeared as I needed them. A professional story editor, as an example, came over for a few hours to help me out. He stayed 12 hours.
Two years later he was still showing up, every two weeks, refusing pay because, "You can't afford it," while ruthlessly castigating me, "Don't you know anything about documentaries?" to correct flaws. At the same time, I was unraveling the puzzle of what Heather had done, and began reading and traveling to Heather's guides in healing. Discoveries about the vast difference in accepted medical practice and healing shocked me and gave me gratitude that I had selected this project. There was no turning back.
I chose to take you into the world of hope Heather discovered, showing rather than telling the multitude of simple actions people can take to facilitate healing and take back their own health.
What was your favorite part of making this film?
The friendship that grew with Heather and Kim, the community of supportive filmmakers, and people who understand health and healing continues to be a favorite part of my life. Encountering Dr. Mercola's online work, for instance, provided me with research to clarify how Heather's changes in lifestyle created this miracle, and continues to be daily reading.
Where do the proceeds to your film go?
Directly toward paying back the costs of the film. I had to increase my mortgage.