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02 September 2010

Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally: book review

Professor George Jelinek's review of Judy Graham’s book: Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally.

Judy Graham was diagnosed with MS when just 26 years old. It is a testament to her extraordinary positivity and self-reliance that she did not just accept the prevailing medical paradigm in 1974 of inevitable progressive neurological deterioration.

Her willingness to embrace lifestyle-based therapies to help overcome the illness is now reflected, 36 years later, in a healthy body and mind with barely discernible disability.

Let us be honest. In 1974, unlike today, there was little if any evidence that modifying lifestyle factors could have any influence on the progression of this illness. Swank had published his hypothesis about dietary saturated fat and its correlation with MS incidence in 1950, and the first serious proposal that vitamin D insufficiency could have an influence on the development of MS was published by Goldberg in the year Judy was diagnosed.

But there was little to suggest that the progression of the disease could be modified by lifestyle change. How many of us would have had the courage and perseverance to investigate these possibilities, start action groups, apply the findings to our own lives, and blaze a trail for the millions of people with MS around the world who had accepted as fact their progressive descent into disability?

And so to 2010, and Judy’s new book Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally is published, building on her seminal work of 1989, ‘Multiple sclerosis: a self-help guide to its management’. Judy’s Preface clearly lays out her philosophy, that she ‘takes a wide overview of all possible solutions’.

This philosophy differentiates the book from many other MS self-help books, where a particular solution or facet of dealing with MS is advocated, and makes it particularly valuable for the person newly diagnosed with MS who is hungry for information, and wants to explore all avenues.

In keeping with most other authors on the subject, Judy starts with nutrition, discussing issues that she feels are particularly important in food sensitivities, supplements and oils. Incorporating many anecdotes of people with MS throughout the book, she moves on to physical therapies such as exercise and physiotherapy, and presents a comprehensive overview of other complementary therapies.

Finally, she provides a clear prescription for living a healthy life, with good discussions of triggering factors and the mind:body connection, finishing with ‘MS can be a great spur to doing all the things you always wanted to do and living life to the fullest’. This apparent paradox is one of the interesting things that I see happen to many people when they turn around the pessimism and despair of diagnosis and begin to see MS as an opportunity to live a more authentic life.

I wonder how many lives Judy Graham has touched in her 36 years of having MS. What a wonderful thing it is for someone newly diagnosed with MS to open her book and see the very first chapter headed ‘MS can be controlled’. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone newly diagnosed with MS, and indeed at any stage of the illness. Further, health practitioners managing people with MS would do very well to read this book and tap into the genuine hope that Judy provides for all of us in the MS community.

Professor George Jelinek MD