Welcome to the Carnival of MS Bloggers, a bi-weekly compendium of thoughts and experiences shared by those living with multiple sclerosis.
Colds, Flu and Multiple Sclerosis: Keep Yourself Healthy This Winter
by Dr. Yumi Izumisato
As we see each year, the cold weather brings a dramatic increase in the number of people catching colds and flu. When we catch colds, we often feel chills. Eastern medical philosophy explains that the body gets chills mainly for two reasons. First, when the body is weak and out of balance, it reacts by shaking to get pathogens away from body, which stick to the surface of body or enter into the body. Pathogens are always present, even when you’re healthy. But whether or not they enter the body and bring problems depends on how strong and balanced your body is.
The second reason the body gets chills is the cold is so extreme the body shakes to prevent the entrance of cold.
In either case, the body is sometimes overcome and we end up getting sick.
The influence of cold temperatures often leads to symptoms in the nose, throat and air tract. But it also constricts the blood vessels, resulting in poor limb circulation. These changes near the surface of the body are easy to feel and usually short-term. But the cold can actually reach and chill the internal organs of the body, bringing more serious consequences.
Even for generally healthy people, chills can cause a dysfunction of the internal organs. Depending on which organ the chills spread to, a number of problems can manifest, including digestive, respiratory, sexual and emotional, among others. During menstruation, pain, excessive blood loss and/or clotting, and infertility can occur.
If the initial causes of these symptoms continue unchecked, they can lead to more serious, long-term illnesses. Perhaps western medicine doesn’t recognize this, but the East goes so far as to say ‘cold is the source of all disease.’
What does this mean for people with Multiple Sclerosis?
It means that MS patients need to be particularly careful to stay warm and avoid catching colds or flu or they’ll be at risk of having a relapse.
Prior statistics have already shown that relapses occur more often after a cold or bout of flu. The question has always been, “why?” A recent Current Medicine study suggested that cold viruses could produce a protein that wakens the sleeping pathogenic T cells, resulting in MS relapses.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM,) which sees the body and illnesses holistically, the fact you have MS means your body is already weak or out of balance. (This is likely the reason you came down with MS.) Catching cold and chills are also signs your body is out of balance, as we mentioned earlier. The combination of the imbalance caused by the cold weather and the original imbalance (that caused MS) can be too much for the body to take and may result in a relapse.
Both views indicate that viral infection resulting in colds and flu is a factor in MS relapses. So patients should be especially careful about catching colds through winter and times that these illnesses are spreading. Of course, the best way to avoid getting chilled and catching colds is to take precautionary measures.
I recommend the following to keep your selves healthy this winter:
MS patients should do their best to avoid crowded areas, make sure to gargle regularly and get plenty of sleep.
Be sure to dress warm enough, but don’t over do it. You should keep your abdomen/waist area particularly warm. Here in Japan, people do this by wearing a ‘belly band,’ or ‘haramaki.’ (hara=belly, maki=wrap) They’re especially popular with the older generation, but have been shunned as uncool by younger people in the past. Recently, though, modern versions are appearing and gaining popularity. Regardless, staying healthy should be your primary concern, so please use one if you can find it.
Also, be sure to keep your neck, wrists, and ankles warm as well.
With that being said, keeping warm is important, but getting overheated can actually be detrimental. Eastern cultures believe maintaining balance is the key to health in all aspects of life, physical, mental and emotional. Think ‘Yin and Yang,’ and act accordingly. In regards to your body, warm is good, but too hot is not. So don’t overdress or warm your body by the fire.
And finally, don’t bathe in extremely hot water. Long soaks in lukewarm water are recommended.
Regarding diet, basically you should be eating foods that warm the body. For vegetables, garlic, ginger, green onion, and leeks all have a warming effect, but tomatoes and raw vegetables should be avoided because they cool the body. Dark vegetables rich in carotene and root vegetables, such as pumpkin are especially good.
For meats and fish/ seafood, sheep, deer, shrimp, mussels, and salmon are good, but you should avoid crab. Other ingredients that warm the body are cinnamon, pepper, brown sugar, walnuts and chestnuts. Spicy foods warm the body, but should be avoided by people who are particularly dry.
Your meals should be a higher temperature than your body, so soups, stews, and pot cooking are recommended.
I also recommend limiting your alcohol consumption. But if you’re going to drink, do so in moderation. Choose red wine over white. Beer cools the body so you should avoid it, if possible. Again, balance is the key to health, and overconsumption is not balance.
Exercise moderately. You should raise your basal metabolism by building muscle. Lack of muscle makes it difficult for the body to generate heat, so it’s easy to get chilled. (It’s also easier to gain weight for this reason.)
Many people with MS have lost some mobility, thus making traditional exercise difficult. All I can say here is do your best to get some exercise. Even if you’re in a wheelchair, you should be able to do light exercises or yogic postures. There is much info on the net about this so please do some research, or consult your doctor. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Your body will thank you for it.
During the winter, in general you should do your best to just take it easy and not do anything extraneous in work or play. Also, keep your mind stable and calm. Follow the eastern saying, ’Go to bed early and get up late.’
TCM’s philosophy is that winter is a time when things settle quietly, become passive, and everything is stored away and saved. To welcome the new spring, you should spend the winter quietly and calmly to restore your energy.
These last points are made for everyone to maintain health during the winter. But MS patients should be especially vigilant to stay healthy because we have more at risk from falling ill from the cold. I hope the above advice has been helpful for you and will keep you cold, flu, and relapse free this winter. Please take care.
This concludes the 132nd edition of the Carnival. The next Carnival of MS Bloggers will be hosted here on February 14, 2013. Please remember to submit a post (via email) from your blog of which you are particularly proud, or which you simply want to share, by noon on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.
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(Top image courtesy of Shutterstock)
(Top image courtesy of Shutterstock)