How do you encourage your friends and family to support your healthy lifestyle choices and even join you on your Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) journey?

There are good reasons to bring your friends, family and others along with you as you follow the OMS Program.

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You might want your family to join you, to make things easier at home - or convince a loved one to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of MS or for other health benefits? You might be the friend of someone who has MS but who does not yet follow the OMS Recovery Program? Whatever your goal, this blog can help you.

The OMS Program promotes healthy choices that have universal benefits: better physical health, better mental health and will lower the risk of many lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A study found many partners of people following OMS identified significant personal gains with their own health and well-being as well as that of the person with MS.

The sixth step of the program is Prevention in Family Members, and this blog will support you with how you can do this.


A quick recap of the steps of the OMS Program 

  1. Diet - a low saturated fat, plant-based wholefood diet + seafood and additional supplementation with flaxseed oil (20-40ml per day) 

  2. Sunlight & vitamin D - keep vitamin D levels high through regular low dose sun exposure or vitamin D supplement (10,000 IU in winter months) 

  3. Exercise - 30 mins, five times per week

  4. Daily meditation - 30 mins  

  5. Medication (if needed)

  6. Prevention in family members (see above) 

  7. Change your life, for life 

A common question we are asked is, is it desirable and advisable for your loved ones to follow the OMS program (strictly)?

The answer: the decision is really down to them, the OMS program forms a good basis for healthy lifestyle recommendations which will certainly not do them any harm. Meditation, healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction provide a good foundation for good physical and mental health. 

The evidence on whether dietary changes help reduce MS risk is not clear-cut. We strongly advise people with MS to follow a plant-based, wholefood diet that is very low in saturated fat, but it is not clear that putting family members on the same diet will reduce their risk.

  • It is known that following a healthier diet is important in preventing many other chronic health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

  • In the US Nurses Health Study, those that took even a low dose of vitamin D had around half the risk of MS, and there are similar data for quitting smoking.

  • The only element where recommendations differ for people with MS to the general population is the vitamin D supplement recommended dosage is lower for the general population. 

Recommendations for friends and family:

  • Stop smoking - the most important MS risk factor

  • Vitamin D and sunlight - 5,000 IU of vitamin D supplement in winter months

  • Vitamin D supplementation should be adjusted for weight of the child

  • Pregnant women should ensure they take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy, particularly if you are pregnant in the winter

  • Breastfeeding can reduce baby's risk of MS if fed for more than 6 months

  • Consume a balanced diet, low in saturated fats and processed food, with fewer animal products and more plants

  • Omega 3/flaxseed oil supplementation 

  • Take part in regular exercise 

  • Promote meditation and encourage stress reduction 


Advice for influencing others: 

  1. Start early - It can be easier to build healthy habits with young children - encourage them to play outside, stay active, eat well and supplement with omega 3 and vitamin D. Teenage obesity is a known risk factor for MS. 

  2. Lead by example - Be consistent in changing your own lifestyle, particularly when setting an example for children.  

  3. Be open with others about elements of the program and MS - When appropriate, explain to those close to you the reasons why you are eating in a certain way, or why you need to take time out to meditate. You are making choices to help improve your health, allow them to ask questions and even share OMS resources with them to help explain. 

  4. Share the benefits of your lifestyle change - Let people know any positive changes you have experienced since you started the OMS program. It may be something simple, for example savings in lunch costs. Don't talk about what you can’t do; focus on what you can e.g. 'I enjoyed this delicious vegetarian recipe' rather than talking about how you can't eat burgers anymore. 

  5. Be honest about the increased risk to family members - The general population only has roughly a 1 in 330 chance of developing MS, although this figure varies significantly from region to region. The vast majority of family members will not develop MS, but there is an increased lifetime risk: 

  • Identical twin - 1 in 5
  • Non-identical twin - 1 in 22
  • Other brothers or sisters - 1 in 37
  • Parent - 1 in 67
  • Child - 1 in 48

(From the MS Trust website

Genetics play a factor, but changes in lifestyle can lower this risk. In particular:

  • Smoking is particularly damaging - smoking cigarettes doubles the risk of someone developing multiple sclerosis.

  • Stressful lifestyle 

  • Vitamin D 

  • However, you don't want to make someone upset or worried unnecessarily. 

  1. Be vigilant when there are early signs of MS - Encourage loved ones to visit the GP if there are early symptoms or you have concerns about their risk and help them to take control of their healthcare. You might also consider encouraging them to get their vitamin D level checked - (you can also do this via home health tests.)

  2. Educate - No one likes to be told what to do or to be judged by others, particular if it is intrusive or unsolicited advice. Give people information and encourage them to make informed choices. 

  3. Enjoy doing OMS together - 

    • Cook healthy recipes together 

    • Go outdoors, enjoy sports and being active together

    • Meditate with others

    • Go to a restaurant and order delicious OMS friendly food  

  4. Reach out to other OMSers - There is a huge amount of learning from fellow OMSers, some of whom will have been in your shoes. Difficult teenagers, awkward partners or critical parents, your challenges won't probably have been covered before.They can provide both practical advice and emotional support. 

  5. Be patient and gentle - For some people, these lifestyle changes might be easy - for example if someone is already interested in nutrition and has an active outdoor lifestyle. It is easiest to focus on one thing at a time, for example vitamin D might be a good place to start, followed with trying some new healthy foods.

  6. Think about their personality - Are they more likely to respond to data and studies or to an emotive video of someone whose life has been changed? Do they like watching YouTube videos or prefer to get information in a short leaflet. OMS has various resources that can help you - a podcast, website, downloadable leaflets, the OMS book, videos, social media channels and research news

Know when to stop - Not everyone is receptive to lifestyle changes; it might not be the right time for them, they might have had a hard time reacting to your diagnosis or they might find it scary to think about their MS risk. Give it time.


Further reading


References:

5. Conradi S1, Malzahn U, Paul F, Quill S, Harms L, Then Bergh F, Ditzenbach A, Georgi T, Heuschmann P, Rosche B. Mult Scler. Breas`eeding

 

Editorial credit: Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com

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