Looking at the array of points of light all across the picture you might wonder if this was the discovery of a new star.
But no! these points showed small areas of damage in the brain. The points were shown on an X ray slide and the news was far from welcome.
The damage or lesions were widely spread through the brain so the disease was called Disseminated Sclerosis which just describes the image – scars all over.
Later this was renamed as Multiple Sclerosis or MS.
MS patients showed 2 general patterns in their lives. Some seemed blessed and spent almost normal lives for decades; others had turbulent periods every few years and had a much calmer time between these aggravations; a third set just deteriorated steadily.
In general then some have the relapsing-remitting form of the disease and others have the progressive form.
Such pharmaceuticals that are used have little effect and have even been known to make symptoms worse.
Dr Roy Swank
MS is a neurological disease so it was neurologists that had the task of helping MS patients. From the outset Doctors noticed that MS depended on geography. You might expect a disease to depend on genetics or age but geography or rather the country you are in is odd.
Until you ask the question, what else depends on geography?
The obvious answer is sunlight. At the equator there is a maximum of sunlight and as we go to the Poles, sunlight decrease and MS increases.
Well this did seem to mirror where MS is found. Very little at the equator and more at higher latitudes with a maximum in Northern European and America.
But this did not fully fit the facts.
Draw a line from East to west across Norway. Along this line communities will get the same amount of sunshine and therefore the same amount of vitamin D. But those at the coast had much less MS than those inland.
But what else varies with the north and south position is the diet. Near the equator communities eat more fruit and vegetable and further north they eat more meat and dairy food.
And as for the Norway example, at the coast people tend to eat more fish and those inland eat more meat and dairy products.
Dr Swank came to the conclusion that the diet was responsible for MS and its symptoms and that following the diet of those in the healthier regions would be better for MS patients.
The Low Fat Swank Diet was Born.
Roy Swank created a pragmatic diet that seemed to make sense of the observations he and other Doctors had made. It seemed to him that more MS symptoms were found in areas where meat and dairy foods were routinely consumed so he limited animal fat in his diet.
Studying his patients progress and monitoring it over the years certainly seemed to confirm his hypothesis that if meat and dairy are somehow the cause, then limiting or reducing animal food may well be at least part of the solution.
He published follow up studies every few years and found that patients that kept to his recommended diet did very well even 34 years on the Swank diet.
What is so remarkable about this is that usual expectation for MS is that after 5 years you can expect to be wheelchair bound and after 10 years, well, dead.
A final study found that after 50 years on the Swank Diet patients were healthy and happy and many looking many years younger than their non-MS and non-Swank diet friends and relatives.
Which seems like a resounding success to me.
Next we go back to basics to see what is at play here and notice what is working for the Swank Diet and what you can do to beat it!
MS Jargon Demystified
MS like many other diseases is called an auto-immune disease. It is also called a neurological disease and an inflammatory disease.
So let's look at the medical geek speak one word at a time…
Inflammatory – Arthritis, asthma, cardio-vascular disease, cancer, diabetes…seems like all the long term serious diseases are inflammatory in nature.
Seen from the Naturopathic perspective this means we need to get the patients of these kinds of disease on an anti-inflammatory diet. We'll skip over other measures we would take but the glaringly obvious common factor in all these diseases is that they require an anti-inflammatory diet.
Apart from other things that means a diet with no meat and no animal protein at all.
Scientists would call it a "Plant based diet". They don't want to get involved in the culture and even politics of words like vegetarian or vegan. But "Plant based" is a wholefood diet and is what we normally call "Vegan".
It is only a tad different from the so called Mediterranean diet which has very little meat or fish or dairy food.
And, by the way, the Mediterranean is only at 35 Degrees above the Equator and Norway is at 60 to 70 Degrees north.
Neurological disease – the inflammation in MS causes the scars or plaques that show up in brain imaging as white dots and spots. The inflammation shows areas where there is nerve damage and with enough scarring so much damage in the brain that a part of the body may drift outside our control.
Once the damage is done it is between hard and impossible to heal and repair.
So the imperative is to use as much anti-inflammatory diet and remedies as possible once the diagnosis is made.
Lastly we get to the most mysterious word of all – autoimmune because we ask ourselves with incredulity, why would the body attack itself?
Autoimmune disease is not rare. Celiac disease, Diabetes, Hashimoto's and rheumatoid arthritis amongst others are autoimmune disorders.
Funny enough researchers are looking at the possible role of place of latitude and sunlight in these diseases too. Maybe they should look at diet as well.
Let's now put all this together. We know that MS depends on diet so the gut is a good place to start
If we follow a healthy diet such as one of the traditional diets rich with vegetables and fruit and wholemeal grain the gut will get a rich daily supply of plant protein, anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils and soothing bioflavonoids.
This conditions and nourished the gut as well as ensuring a healthy population of friendly bacteria.
That is a healthy gut.
Now let's say it gets damaged; this could be from anti-biotics or a change in eating habits to a meat heavy diet. Gradually the lower amount of fibre, the change in bacterial species and the increasing inflammatory environment eats away at the lining of the gut.
The person who had a healthy gut now has so called, "leaky gut" or increased gut permeability if you will.
The gut cannot now act as a careful, intelligent filter and so food fragments that are not quite digested can leak through the gut wall and into the blood.
All of a sudden a foreign undigested protein is in the blood and the body reacts how it is supposed to.
The immune system attacks the invading protein with full force and essentially "digests" it and destroys it.
And this can go on for some time.
The problems really mount up as the body realises the pattern of proteins, like a bar code, on the food fragments matches part of the protein pattern on your own thyroid gland or pancreas or some other body part.
When it does that it will attack that too – it is almost like a ship flying a pirate flag attracting the attention of the Fleet.
The food that matches part of the protein pattern of a body part will start the body attacking itself.
This is how the auto-immune process starts and continues.
And that is why the Swank diet works and how we can make it even better.
Swank in describing his diet as low fat made it in fact, low meat.
That reduced the irritation and inflammation of the gut wall and allowed the gut to heal and so to keep undigested proteins in the gut where enzymes can work on them and reduce the chances of them sneaking into the bloodstream.
The attacks on the part of the body can then scale down and symptoms of inflammation, pain and disability reduce as well.
We can boost this by using a diet that improves on Swanks original diet and the best diet for this would be what researchers call a "Plant based diet."
Adding some omega 3 oils from flax seeds adds to the anti-inflammatory power which can be increased with other nutritional tweaks and techniques by going to see a Naturopath or perhaps a Doctor trained in Functional medicine.
In the 50 years since Professor Swank started his pioneering work and for which he should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine no pharmaceutical drugs have been made that show anything like the effectiveness of the Swank Diet.
Any patient of MS and in fact any auto-immune diet should carefully consider this diet and whether or not to follow it. And if you know anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder it would be a blessing for them to be given a glimmer of hope for the future.
This powerful therapeutic diet is massively effective and if any drug had half the healing power of The Swank diet they would be hollering it from the rooftops.
This is only a diet so there is no money to be made by me or anybody else by following it. Just a healed life and a whole load of happiness as the pain reduces.