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06 March 2015

At last! Something can be done about fatigue

The HOLISM study again breaks new ground, showing that lifestyle factors are the strongest predictors of fatigue in PwMS. To date, there has been little to offer people with MS to counter fatigue, including no effective medications, although many have been tried

Most people with MS, around 85% in clinical studies, experience fatigue; for many, this is the most disabling symptom they have.

What can be done about fatigue?

People often ask on forums and social media, what can I do about my fatigue? To date, there has been little to offer people with MS to counter fatigue, including no effective medications, although many have been tried.

This major international study from the HOLISM investigators of two thousand people with MS, published in the world’s biggest medical journal, PLOS One, changes all that.

We found that around two-thirds of our sample (65.6%) had clinically significant fatigue. This is considerably lower than in other big studies, probably because so many of our HOLISM sample were following the OMS approach, and therefore had fewer of the adverse lifestyle factors that we later identified as predicting fatigue in our study.

Healthy lifestyles and fatigue

We showed that fatigue is markedly lower in those people with MS who adopt healthy lifestyles. In particular, we found people with progressive types of MS complained of significant fatigue 2-3 times more commonly than those with relapsing-remitting disease. We also found increased fatigue in people with MS who ate a poor diet high in saturated fats (95% more likely), were obese (84% more likely to be fatigued), or took commonly used disease-modifying medications (83% more likely).

There was reduced fatigue for those who exercised more (66% reduction), supplemented with vitamin D (38% reduction) and omega 3 fatty acids (37% reduction for flaxseed oil, no reduction for fish oil), consumed fish frequently (34% reduction), or drank alcohol in moderation (24% reduction).

In conclusion

These findings are simply extraordinary! Many PwMS attending our retreats report back that their fatigue has lifted after they embrace the OMS Program.

What we found is that the very lifestyle changes that we teach in the retreats aimed at stabilising the illness and reducing relapse rate and disease progression, are exactly those that are associated with less fatigue.

It is no wonder those going to the retreats start to feel better, as their fatigue lifts. Our results fit well with a preventive medicine approach to managing MS; other HOLISM papers show that such healthy lifestyle behaviours are also associated with better quality of life and reduced risk of MS relapses and depression.

So adopting the OMS Program is a win-win situation all round! Doctors and people with MS everywhere will be heartened to know that fatigue need no longer be such a disabling problem.