Monday, 26 January 2015

Research News: Good news about MS & Depression

So there I was last week complaining that the boffins weren't connecting the dots - between MS and depression - and all the while there was the latest paper from the HOLISM Study sitting in my inbox, and it's looking into exactly that! 
It's a very useful paper, especially for those of us living with MS, and as you might imagine, it contains both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that people with MS are considerably more likely than the general population to experience depression. We also have higher risk than people with other chronic conditions. But if you have MS, you probably knew that already... 

The good news is that there are things we can do - or "modifiable lifestyle factors" as the study calls them - that can make a significant difference! OK, you probably guessed that too, but doesn't it seem more solid now we know there is peer-reviewed scientific evidence to prove it?

Don't Do This

The study found that certain lifestyle factors are associated with increased risk of depression in people with MS. These are:

  • Poor diet
  • Little exercise
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Social isolation
  • Taking interferon

I imagine these would increase anyone's risk of depression, come to think of it! 
I must admit to cringing a little as I read this, as I know that I get nothing like as much exercise as I could! 

Do This

The study's recommendations make much cheerier reading. The researchers point out that making the following changes will reduce our risk of depression:

  • Healthy diet including some fish
  • Supplementing with daily Omega 3 oil
  • Supplementing with vitamin D3
  • Regular exercise
  • Regular meditation
  • Social support 
  • Stopping smoking

Of all these factors, it was perhaps meditation that showed the greatest risk reduction for depression. The study found that people with MS who meditated at least once a week halved their odds of getting depression. That's pretty encouraging stuff in my book!

Anyone following the 
OMS Recovery Programme will already be doing most if not all of these, and of course there is detailed discussion of some of the evidence supporting these measures in Prof Jelinek's book. In the coming weeks I'll be posting more information about each one in turn, so watch this space!

To read the full paper - free of charge - go to the BMC here.

Monday, 19 January 2015

How are you?

The trouble with any kind of autobiographical writing is that the story isn't finished yet. As philosopher Joseph Campbell and many psychologists would tell you, we humans generally use narrative structures, or stories, to understand and explain our experience of life. But a narrative requires a shape, ideally a pleasing arc, with a dramatic beginning, a problematic middle, and a satisfying end. Life, unfortunately for the would-be writer, is not very obliging in this respect.

Both the conditions that I live with are notoriously unpredictable. I'm not even able to answer the simple question "How are you?" with any accuracy. I always feel a need to clarify: "Do you mean how am I today, this week, this month, or this very moment?" Because, you see, it really is that changeable. 

This moment, as I sit here writing, I feel physically well, and mentally/emotionally a little fragile but more or less functional. However, whenever it is that you open this page, dear reader, I may be suffering a burning neuropathic pain, or straining against a bone-deep fatigue, or training for a 10k run, or floundering in a suicidal mire. Five minutes from now, a difficult phone call, stray Facebook comment, or other apparently innocent interaction may trigger in me a dangerous rage or a soul-sucking depression that drives me back to the brink. Or a minor trip, bump, or upset may set off a full-blown MS relapse.

We wait for the neurologists and the psychiatrists to realise that a human being is a single entity that cannot be so neatly compartmentalised, and figure out what is really going on within the Bermuda triangle of MS,  depression, and emotional volatility. Meanwhile, those of us who are not content to wait for yet another liver-toxic drug - which would only treat the symptoms anyway - must find our own way to surf the stormy seas of our inexplicable lives. And find mine I will, even if it takes a lifetime.

So it would seem that I have no nuggets of wisdom to offer today. Today, I cannot write my life - blogger, columnist and almost-author though I may be - because the truth is I haven't finished living it yet.