You are what you eat

Diet eases woman's MS symptoms

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Ann Dawn plays a word game with her mother and her aide Wednesday at her Post Falls home. Dawn has been wheelchair bound due to multiple sclerosis for the past three years.

Sitting in her easy chair on Wednesday, Ann Dawn was eager to demonstrate.

Leaning forward, she kicked up her left leg.

"That doesn't mean much to you," the Post Falls woman said with a smile.

But Dawn hadn't been able to move that leg for three years, until this summer.

The change wasn't the result of a surgery, or taking a battery of drugs for her multiple sclerosis.

The cause, Dawn believes, is within her refrigerator.

After discovering a diet specified for individuals with MS, Dawn and her caregivers report physical improvements that doctors had predicted would never happen.

"I think in another year I will probably be walking," the 69-year-old said. "My caregivers tell me they can't wait to be fired."

Dawn isn't trying to push false hopes on others, she said. And experts can only say her diet might be responsible for the changes.

But Dawn at least wants to get it out there that this has worked for her, she said.

"People who have MS don't have much hope for ever getting better," the snow-haired woman said in her home decorated with crosses. "I felt as I was getting worse, 'Thy will be done.' I guess now God has something else in mind. Maybe it's to let people know there's something else they can do."

Dawn was diagnosed in 2003 with primary progressive MS, a disorder where the immune system attacks the myelin sheath around nerve fibers, hindering signals between the brain and the body. Effects can include numbness in extremities, slurred speech, and lower energy levels.

Dawn's condition progressed to secondary progressive MS, affecting her entire body. Eventually, she was bed and wheelchair bound, relying on caregivers around the clock.

"Frankly, there is nothing I can do for you," a doctor told her, which she had already heard from a neurologist.

Then a few months back, a caregiver told her about Iowa doctor Terry Wahls.

Wahls' website, offering to defeat progressive MS "without drugs," encourages tackling the condition with a diet of organic fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats and a boatload of kale.

The site shows Wahls, who has MS herself, bike riding a year after being wheelchair dependent.

"I thought, 'There's nothing to lose,'" Dawn said. "It's nothing but a diet."

Within a week of her new regimen - which includes six cups of kale a day - Dawn's blood pressure dropped to the point she no longer needed medication.

Now after three and a half months, Dawn has noticed even bigger differences.

She can wiggle her left thumb and pinkie, after having no feeling in that hand for years. She can lift her arm without help.

For the first time in three years, she can sit up on her own, and kick up her both her legs.

"I can only use the word amazing," Dawn said, adding that there has been no physical therapy on top of the diet.

One of her caregivers, Karissa Lanpheare, whose own husband died of MS symptoms, said she is excited by the improvements.

"My daughter has feared she'd get it," Lanpheare said. "Watching Ann and seeing her progress, at least I would know what to do."

The Inland Northwest chapter of the National MS Society has 2,500 registered members with MS in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Beth Dagastine, MS advocate and support group leader in Post Falls, said that diet can impact not only MS patients, but everyone.

Dagastine insisted her own MS improved to where she could walk again, after she started taking a health food capsule.

"Everybody's body is different, so everybody's body is going to act differently," she said, emphasizing there isn't a munchable cure for everyone. "If someone says to me, 'Oh, you should try this because it will cure you,' that turns me off."

No randomized clinical trials have been conducted to prove certain foods benefit MS, said Louisa Lavy, neurologist at Kootenai Medical Center.

"Whether that's a placebo affect or whether that's rooted in physiological changes, we don't know," Lavy said of diet impacts on certain conditions.

But that doesn't mean eating organic foods hasn't helped Dawn, she said.

Lavy advises all her MS patients to stick to a well-balanced diet with exercise, she said. A healthy lifestyle prevents other conditions that compound the impacts of MS, she said.

"Your brain atrophies at a faster rate when you have high blood pressure, chronic hypertension or chronic diabetes," Lavy said. "You compound damage to the brain."

The human body does repair its myelin, she added, but healing can take weeks, months or longer.

"It's great for this woman to have recovered, whatever the reason," Lavy said.

Dawn has a lot of plans, if she does recover mobility. Like helping care for her 98-year-old mother, and finally cradling and hugging her 36 grandchildren.

She also wants to stand up in front of the doctor who had denied her help, she said.

To get there, Dawn falls back on her favorite quote from Saint Augustine.

"Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you," Dawn quoted. "That's the perfect prescription. And that's what we've been doing."

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