I just finished reading some news accounts about an unsettling recent study that found people with multiple sclerosis lived an average of six years less than people without MS.
That’s pretty disheartening – if you allow it to be.
I distinctly remember being told when I was diagnosed that my MS would likely not shorten my life. So, when I first got wind of this new research, my heart caught in my throat. What had changed?
Recent research has found an inverse association between alcohol consumption and multiple sclerosis risk. In this particular study, heavier drinkers were less likely to have MS than nondrinkers.
The research, conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and published in the journal JAMA Neurology, looked at existing data from two population studies in Sweden. Other research into the relationship between alcohol intake and the risk of developing MS have yielded inconsistent results, leaving physicians without grounds to advise for or against drinking in terms of its impact on MS risk.
Following last month's webcast, Promising MS Research to Repair, Protect and Restore the Nervous System, we sat down with Dr. Ben Barres, Professor and Chair of Neurobiology at Stanford University's School of Medicine, to explore the exciting research he and his team are doing in the area of nervous system repair.Dr. Barres, would you tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing in nerve connections and the leads you’re following in this area?
My lab is focused on understanding the role of glial cells in the brain. There are two different types of glial cells: oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Many of you may have learned that oligodendrocytes cover the nerve fibers with myelin, which is damaged by MS. But the astrocytes, in particular, are a very mysterious class of brain cell. Making up about 40% of cells in the brain, they’re large cells that each ensheath (or cover) thousands of synapses (points of contact through which a signal is transferred from one neuron to the next)...
As we make the transition from 2013 to 2014, it can be instructive to take stock of what we’ve accomplished in the past twelve months – and to contemplate what we’d like to accomplish in the coming year.
Of course, many of us do that as a matter of routine when it comes to our personal and professional lives. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t begun the New Year with a long list of things I’d like to do better than I have done in the past.
I’m approaching the one year anniversary of my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, and as you can imagine, it’s on my mind a lot.
Although I don’t know if there’s any way to really be prepared for news like this, I obviously knew that MS was a possibility. I’d been asked a lot of questions about “numbness and tingling” and it takes about 10 seconds and Google to understand exactly what that means.
As someone who cares about people with multiple sclerosis, getting the chance to attend the National MS Society Tykeson Fellows Conference is like winning the lottery. Who wouldn’t want to spend four days with brilliant scientists devoted to finding solutions for people with MS? Nov. 6 to 9, in Denver, Colo., I got to do just that.
The Society attracts promising young investigators and doctors into the MS field through a variety of fellowship and scholar awards to ease their transition into independent careers. Many prominent MS researchers making breakthroughs today began their professional lives as Society trainees, and the Tykeson Fellows Conference is an opportunity for these scientists to connect, collaborate and be inspired by their peers who are working to find answers about MS. I know I’m inspired by the people I met.
I got my annual flu shot the other day. It was relatively painless, and I always feel better once that task is checked off my to-do list.
But each time I fill out the paperwork (or, in this case, the questionnaire on the registration kiosk at my pharmacy) to get the influenza vaccine, I pause at one question: “Do you have cancer, leukemia, AIDS, or any other immune-system problem?”
My previous blog explored the physical steps you can take to manage fatigue, but there are also important emotional and environmental consequences of fatigue. For me, this means accepting that there are some things I cannot do on a given day, which may make me disappointed. Harder still is accepting that there are some things I may never be able to do – this can turn into a long session of reexamining my future plans and dreams.
On a more immediate level, I often just get sad and angry that I don’t feel well. I even occasionally dip down into an ugly resentment that other people feel so much better and take their health for granted. I typically allow myself to wallow in these feelings for a while, until I end up getting so tired of myself that I talk to a friend, go for a walk or do something else to get me out of this dark place. Other people may find it helpful to talk to a therapist or engage in some other activity that helps them feel better.
Pretty much everyone with multiple sclerosis has felt MS-related fatigue. You know what I am talking about – not the tiredness that people complain about after a late night or a day of holiday shopping, but bone-crushing weariness that makes you doubt whether you can continue to function for even an hour more, much less until the end of the day. For me, fatigue is often accompanied by nausea and a headache, not to mention a worsening of sensory symptoms, such as tingling feet and the MS hug. With all of that going on, cognitive function goes out the window, adding to the frustration of the whole terrible situation.
I attended a session on self-management of fatigue a few weeks ago at ECTRIMS 2013, presented by Dr. Marcia Finlayson, an expert in occupational therapy. She said that she has heard people describe fatigue as a “constant heaviness, like walking in cement” and as “debilitating,” “scary” and “discouraging.”
We’ve been told for years that red wine – actually, the compound in red wine called resveratrol – may help reduce inflammation in our bodies because it contains a potentially anti-inflammatory compound called resveratrol. That was welcome news to a wine fan like me – but also kind of confusing, in that consuming alcohol is known to promote inflammation. As you probably know, inflammation plays a role in all kinds of diseases, including cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Science often demonstrates that things aren’t as clear-cut as we’d like. And that’s as it should be: Scientific research is designed to be incremental, each study adding a new bit of information to the whole body of knowledge, and contradictions often help point the way to discovery.
Why did 8,000 MS scientists and physicians travel thousands of miles and devote a week outside of their labs and offices to attend the 2013 ECTRIMS meeting that just took place in Copenhagen? The bottom line is that connecting with other scientists to share ideas, communicate new findings and even learn what’s not working is the lifeblood of science and it’s what stimulates faster progress. Meetings like this are vital to spurring new approaches and uncovering promising leads – more about that later.
During the week attendees heard about cutting-edge research that addresses virtually every aspect of the challenge to stop MS in its tracks, restore function, and end MS forever. My National MS Society colleagues blogged on some of the exciting progress toward protecting and repairing the nervous system, maximizing rehabilitation and exercise therapy, and discovering risk factors that may worsen MS or increase the likelihood of developing it. And scientist/journalist and person living with MS, Dr. Julie Stachowiak, shared personal reflections on new research about children in MS families, teens with MS, driving, exercise, shared decision making, and some emotional issues that can occur in people with MS.