From Narrowed Veins to Liberation: An Anthropological Analysis of the Canadian Liberation Therapy Movement

Supporters of Paolo Zamboni's "liberation therapy" for multiple sclerosis rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 5, 2011. Photo: Florence d'Eon


“The will to live, to be healthy, to return to the security of the kingdom of the well, is unspeakably powerful. In Canada, we have seen this collectively expressed by the masses of people afflicted with multiple sclerosis, who are demanding access to a controversial and experimental treatment developed by an Italian doctor” (Stern, September 10, 2010:A15).

In 2009, Dr. Paolo Zamboni, an Italian vascular surgeon, published an article with a new twist on the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is conventionally considered to be a neurological, autoimmune disease. Zamboni instead linked MS to the narrowing of veins that allow blood to drain from the central nervous system, referring to this compromised blood flow as Chronic Cerebro-Spinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI). He proposed a balloon angioplasty treatment that would open the veins, “liberating” blood flow and relieving MS symptoms (Zamboni et al., 2009). Unlike other balloon angioplasties in arteries (i.e. used in treating obstructive heart disease), Zamboni called his approach the “liberation procedure” (Zamboni, 2009:73). Soon after, on November 21, CTV television network’s W5 aired a documentary on Zamboni’s research called The Liberation Treatment: A whole new approach to MS. The documentary described a “revolutionary treatment” that “liberated” MS patients from a chronic and debilitating disease—Dr. Fabrizio Salvi, an Italian neurologist working with Zamboni, even suggested it could be a cure for MS. Immediately, the term “liberation” and the promise of a cure sparked the imagination of the Canadian media and MS community. Whereas many therapies offer symptom relief, or sometimes  a “cure,” Zamboni’s procedure hints at something beyond that. As tens of thousands of patient-activists wanting to be liberated mobilize online (Fragoso, 2011), Zamboni’s idea of liberation therapy has engendered a proliferation of discourses of hope, empowerment and intrigue all around the world in “near-miraculous ways” (Paterson, September 24, 2010).

Medical researchers are frantically trying to catch up to overwhelming public interest in liberation therapy and the demand for a therapeutic response.  There is little medical consensus as to why or if it works (del Pilar Cortes Nino et al., 2010), and some dismiss it outright as a placebo (Sinnema, August 12, 2010; Wente, July 29, 2010). In Canada the procedure has yet to be approved by medical authorities, although clinical trials are planned for 2012.  Many MS patients, anxious for relief from their debilitating disease, feel that the flow of national resources into research and clinical trials has been cruelly obstructed or stalled (Galloway, September 1, 2010).  Media coverage has ignited controversy and debate among MS patients, national and provincial governments, and the scientific community. What is more, the publicity has mobilized an impassioned patient movement organized around therapeutic rights. Adoption of the charged term “liberation” to describe this medical procedure—variously referred to as “Liberation Procedure,” “Liberation Treatment,” or “Liberation Therapy”—has accelerated this mobilization, incited controversy, and inflamed the political debate. By framing this therapy as “liberation” rather than “cure,” these patient-activists effectively blur the biomedical and the biopolitical as they formulate new imperatives of treatment and care.

Liberation therapy has attracted enormous attention in Canada. One journalist has argued that no other story so dominated medical headlines in 2010 (Ubelacker, December 28, 2010), quoting MS Society CEO Yves Savoie as saying, “There’s no question there is unprecedented engagement and mobilization. There’s an unprecedented level of hope and optimism” (Ubelacker, September 16, 2010). Another writer attributes this solely to “that cursed phrase liberation therapy’ for a garden variety angioplasty” (Paterson, September 24, 2010:12).

Within Canada’s public health care system there is ample opportunity for political posturing to trump scientific due diligence. While provinces and territories are largely responsible for medical service delivery in their respective jurisdictions, most rely heavily on supplementary federal funding to implement and manage these services. Scholars have noted that this particular system is often ripe for both provincial and federal governments to “pass the buck” on major decision-making in the health care portfolio (Choudhry, 2002; Lewis et al., 1998). When new treatments—especially controversial ones such as Liberation Therapy—are introduced, action is often slow and sometimes easily avoided. Since 2009, a plethora of news stories comment on the sense of urgency and the frustration of MS patients with what seems to be the Canadian governments’—provincial and national–stalling of studies that might determine the therapy’s efficacy. MS patients and advocates are lobbying provincial and federal governments and the medical community for a compassionate and speedy response to this new “liberating” therapy, successfully moralizing political and medical discourses in the process. Responding to political pressure from liberation therapy lobbyists, provincial and territorial governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Yukon have made claims to be fast-tracking funds for clinic trials for almost two years. The federal government finally joined these efforts on November 25, 2011, when the Canadian government announced its commitment to expeditious, nation-wide clinical trials. Still, MS patients, their families and friends know that it will likely be years before this treatment is made available in Canada, so they continue to raise tens of thousands of dollars to travel to other countries for the treatment.  Private clinics in Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Germany, India, Mexico, Poland and the US, see opportunities for quick profits in promoting medical tourism and eagerly await these patients.

How and why has this specific therapy sparked so much controversy, near frenzy and militant mobilization in such a short time? The controversy results from a convergence of several factors, including the limited number of treatment options for MS patients in Canada, the relative ease with which many of them can access the therapy out-of-country, and the potency of online social networking. However, two factors are of particular interest for our purposes here: 1) the therapy’s loaded terminology, insofar as it invokes political and emancipatory narratives to foster a politicized therapeutic citizenry; and 2) the trope of “liberation” as a crucial resource in leveraging claims to effective therapy.

This phenomenon has not yet been studied from an anthropological perspective, and in the midst of the ongoing debates it is difficult for us to map out a trajectory or anything more than an exploratory analysis just yet. Further, there are numerous theoretical lenses through which this complex issue could be viewed. However, the concepts of biological citizenship (Petryna, 2002; Rose and Novas, 2004) and therapeutic citizenship (Nguyen, 2004) are particularly useful in shedding light on this controversial topic.

Brendan Leier of the Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, University of Alberta, has pointed out that this type of controversy is “the kindling that turns…a small movement into a massive global movement” (Sinnema, August 12, 2010:A4). The strategic use of the term liberation by Zamboni and his supporters provides the spark to that kindling . The term “liberation” inspires metaphor by transposing political and/or emancipatory discourses into a biological, medical sphere, thus seamlessly linking these traditionally distinctive realms. Again, this procedure is seen by MS patients, not as a cure, but rather as liberation.  James Wilce’s (2009) discussion of medical discourse describes how the immediate expression of language is “only the beginning of its signifying activity” (202). Its transposition into the realm of metaphor sets off an almost infinite number of significations. Further, Ann Hunsaker Hawkins (1999) notes that “the less a phenomenon is fully (i.e. scientifically) understood, the more it tends to be described in metaphoric language” (202). It is the ambiguous and unexplained character of MS and this proposed treatment that may be responsible for inspiring this terminology and sparking the imagination of the media and MS community.

The metaphoric language incited by the term liberation also conjures up a diverse set of narrative resources into a “therapeutic economy”. On April 10, 2010 CTV’s W5 aired another documentary program about the treatment entitled The Liberation War which convincingly illustrates how the term liberation has been linked to a volatile political history of national “liberation wars” for freedom and democracy. This use of imagery and metaphor seems to be polarizing MS patients and the scientific community, at the same time prompting MS activists to rally and protest.  At one rally they shouted out, “Bring it on, government. We’re going to take you on!” (Smith, September 21, 2010:A4) while at others they have brandished placards proclaiming “Liberation Now” (McGrath, September 14, 2010). Because liberation is a political imperative in Western society, by Zamboni calling his procedure the “liberation procedure,” whether intentional or not, he has lifted his therapy to the status of what Nguyen calls a biopolitical imperative: Governments and the medical establishment can say “no” to a scientifically unfounded or “garden-variety” angioplasty, but they find it exceedingly difficult to say “no” to liberation.  Galloway points out that “Government officials say physicians feel threatened by the increasing militancy of their patients,” quoting one doctor who blames the media for creating “a nightmare for our patients, clinics, the MS Society, and the government…” (September 20, 2010:A6)

When MS patients pursuing the liberation procedure describe themselves as “a big family now” (Kirsch, October 30, 2010:A1), this can be understood as a kind of biological citizenship. Adriana Petryna (2002) introduces the notion of biological citizenship to conceptualize how Ukrainian victims of the Chernobyl disaster used their radiation-exposed bodies, “available technologies, knowledge of symptoms, and legal procedures to gain political recognition and access to some form of welfare inclusion” (15). Like the Chernobyl victims, Canadian MS patients have become a politicized collectivity, mobilized around a biological conception of shared identity. In light of the controversial CCSVI theory, MS patients have now adopted a new identity: the CCSVI patient, needing and deserving a new kind of therapy—Liberation. With this therapy unavailable in Canada, their newly reformulated status as CCSVI patients remains tenuous and thus needs to be asserted in political terms. While therapy can be delivered for a disease (MS) that is well researched  and has a long accepted medical theory (auto-immune disorder), CCSVI and its corresponding Liberation Therapy require translation to medical gatekeepers such as the Canadian government, the MS Society and medical practitioners. This dilemma embroils patients in a kind of moral and political economy of hope, typical of biological citizens fighting for recognition of therapeutic rights. Rose and Novas (2004) describe this moral economy of hope as one “in which ignorance, resignation and hopelessness in the future is deprecated. This is simultaneously an economy in the moral traditional sense, for the hope for the innovation that will treat or cure stimulates the circuits of investment and the creation of biovalue” (5-6). For Canadian MS patients who redefine themselves as CCSVI patients, it becomes a moral duty to pursue and advocate for Liberation Therapy, particularly for those that can not access therapy in other countries. Meanwhile, medical tourism companies earn huge profits as they attract patients who do have the financial means to be treated out-of-country. For patients and medical tourism agents alike, the powerful terminology of “liberation” becomes a strategic rhetorical resource to marshal and sell in these moral economies of liberation and hope.

Liberation Therapy creates a therapeutic economy as well. Nguyen’s (2004) concept of therapeutic citizenship clarifies this dynamic by problematizing the notion that biological status equals particular forms of citizenship. Nguyen makes explicit that, while biological status (in this case being diagnosed with MS) may facilitate a biological identity and collectivity, other resources and actors must be mobilized to make successful claims to rights and therapies—particularly therapies that are controversial; essentialized biological identities cannot guarantee successful claims to therapy or inclusion in projects of biological citizenship. For Nguyen, therapeutic citizenship has “emerged as a rallying point for transnational activism in a neoliberal world in which illness claims carry more weight than those based on poverty, injustice or structural violence” (2004:143). The individual body has assumed the status of nexus for both medical and political intervention—a powerful synchronicity felt and experienced not only by the therapeutic citizens themselves, but also by the political and medical authorities they strive to influence. Key resources (for example, subjectivities, narratives and technologies) must be marshalled for a biological status, such as CCSVI, and for therapies, such as liberation, to be recognized and claimed successfully, thus embedding these citizens within a distinctive therapeutic economy.

These moral and therapeutic economies are evidenced in much of the Canadian news media where the demands by CCSVI therapeutic citizens are largely driven by discourses of hope, underpinned by their liberation narratives—hope that they may be liberated from a debilitating disease, but also from the bureaucratic quagmire of restricted funding and resources. For CCSVI patients, narratives of liberation have successfully become not only bioethical imperatives, but also crucial and powerful rhetorical resources in a therapeutic economy made possible by this controversial medical intervention.

The scientific community continues its attempts to prove or disprove the efficacy of this therapy, urging the public to wait and exercise caution (Fragoso, 2011). However, this academic and medical circumspection carries little weight for CCSVI therapeutic citizens who disregard biomedical “evidence,” insisting that they already “know” that it works and refusing to wait. One hopeful patient states, “I don’t profess to be a medical doctor and know all the details, but I know from the videos I have watched and the people that I have talked to, that this procedure works” (Smith, September 21, 2010:A4). These therapeutic citizens believe that they should be empowered to make these decisions themselves. As one patient states: “It’s our bodies. The government should let us see for ourselves if it works” (Peritz, May 6, 2010:A9). Most CCSVI patients are battling for the lofty goal of hope, not simply therapeutic efficacy (as determined by medical trials), and this struggle for an imminent, higher quality of life is why many refuse to wait for scientific “proof.” Journalists have documented several examples of CCSVI patients who received Liberation Therapy outside of Canada but were not “liberated.”  Some patients state that they have no regrets and that it was the “hope” of successful treatment that was a “wonderful gift” (Galloway, September 1, 2010:A16). Similarly, one journalist moralizes and critiques the government and scientific community in this economy of hope by playing with the image of the narrowed vein and the “liberating” balloon angioplasty to describe the bureaucratic red-tape that “wants to move slowly…deflating hopes of many patients who want to believe it will end their suffering” (Galloway, September 1, 2010:A1). These CCSVI therapeutic citizens feel that they have a moral obligation to fight for Liberation Therapy, maintaining the “hope” that it will work. This hope holds just as much, if not more, therapeutic currency as the scientific evidence itself. At times these competing regimes of value spark bitter confrontation and debate among politicians, CCSVI therapeutic citizens and the MS Society of Canada; at other times the value systems appear to be unintelligible to each other.

Both the mysterious, scientifically unexplained nature of the procedure, as well as the loaded term of liberation, have prompted a proliferation of metaphors and narratives around Liberation Therapy. These poetics serve as kindling for public debate and movement-building, which in turn are used as resources in the moral and therapeutic economies of Liberation Therapy. Conceptualizing these CCSVI patients as therapeutic citizens helps us to understand how militant patients can create new forms of citizenship—organized around therapy and a controversial medical identity—that not only exceed state citizenship, but effectively challenge it. In Canada, these therapeutic citizenship projects and movements create new subjectivities and languages that become vital resources in marshalling claims to “liberation”.  In this case, the very name, “Liberation Therapy” helps to politicize CCSVI patients, making explicit the link between the biological and the political. Framing this therapy metaphorically in terms of “liberation,” rather than simply “a cure,” draws from well-established social and political narratives related to emancipation and empowerment.  As this rhetoric establishes Liberation Therapy as a biopolitical and bioethical imperative, it becomes a crucial resource in making the treatment not only visible and understandable, but its delivery nonnegotiable.

Works Cited

Choudhry, Sujit. 2002   Bill 11, The Canada Health Act and the Social Union: The Need for Institutions.  In Health Care Reform and the Law in Canada: Meeting the challenge. T. Caulfield & B. von Tigerstrom, eds. Pp. 37-84. Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press.

CTV News. 2010a W5: “The Liberation Treatment: A whole new approach to MS.” http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/WFive/20091120/W5_liberation_091121/, accessed January 3, 2011.

_____.  2010b W5: “The Liberation War: Why MS patients aren’t waiting for proof.”   http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/WFive/20100409/w5_liberation_update_100409/, accessed January 3, 2011.

del Pilar Cortes Nino, Maria, Donatella Tampieri and Denis Melancon. 2010  Endovascular Venous Procedures for Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis 16(7):771-772.

Fragoso, Yára Dadalti. 2011 The Internet Racing Ahead of Scientific Evidence: The Case of “Liberation” for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria 69(3):525-527.

Galloway, Gloria. 2010   Health Agency Dampens Hopes of MS Patients by Rejecting Clinical Trials; Decision Divides Ottawa and Provinces. The Globe and Mail, September 1: A1.

Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. 1999  Resconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography, Second Edition. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue Research Foundation.

Lewis, Steven, David Naylor, Renaldo Battista, François Champagne, Jonathan Lomas, Devidas Menon, Eleanor Ross, Dan de Vlieger. 1998  Canada Needs an Evidence-based Decision-making Trade Show. Canadian Medical Association Journal 158:210-212.

Nguyen, Vinh-Kim. 2004   Antiretroviral Globalism, Biopolitics, and Therapeutic Citizenship. In Global Assemblages: Technology, politics and ethics as anthropological problems. A. Ong & S. Collier, eds. Pp. 124-144. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Paterson, Jody.  2010  Why the Fierce Attacks on MS therapy? Victoria Times Colonist, September 24: A12.

Peritz, Ingrid. 2010   MS Activists Demand Access to ‘Liberation’ Therapy: ‘This Illness Won’t Wait,’ Says One Patient at Rally in Support of Controversial Experimental Treatment. The Globe and Mail, May 6: A9.

Petryna, Adriana. 2002  Life Exposed: Biological Citizenship after Chernobyl. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Rose, Nikolas and Carlos Novas. 2004   Biological Citizenship. In Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, A. Ong & S. Collier, eds. Pp. 439-463. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Sinnema, Jodie. 2010   ‘Liberation Therapy’ has MS Community in Knots; Social Media Fans the Debate—and May Hide Some Truths—about the Controversial Treatment. Ottawa Citizen, August 12: A4.

Smith, Joanna. 2010   MS Patients Take the Fight to Ottawa; Parliament Hill Protesters Criticize Government’s Decision to Delay Studying Experimental Treatment. The Toronto Star, September 21: A4.

Stern, Leonard. 2010   Judge not the Sick, from the Kingdom of the Well. Vancouver Sun, September 10: A15.

Ubelacker, Sheryl.  2010a  MS Society Sets Aside $1M in Case CCSVI Trial Developed and Approved. The Guelph Mercury, September 16:   news.guelphmercury.com/News/article/688734

__________. 2010b  MS Treatment Faces Scrutiny; Next Year Could be Make or Break Year for Treatment. The Guelph Mercury, December 28: A8.

Wente, Margaret. 2010  Explosive Politics of MS. The Globe and Mail, July 29: A13.

Wilce. James M. 2009  Medical Discourse. Annual Review of Anthropology 38:199-215.

Zamboni,  P.,  R. Galeotti, E. Menegatti, A.M. Malagoni, F. Mascoli, S. Dall’Ara, I. Bartolomei and F. Salvi. 2009  Rationale and Preliminary Results of Endovascular Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, the Liberation Procedure. In Vascular and Endovascular Controversies Update. Roger M. Greenhalgh, ed. Pp. 71-79. London: BIBA Publishing.


Mary Jean Hande is a Masters student in the Department of Social Anthropology at York University, currently working on a thesis project on the Canadian “Liberation Therapy Movement” which expands upon some of the themes discussed in this article.

6 Responses to From Narrowed Veins to Liberation: An Anthropological Analysis of the Canadian Liberation Therapy Movement

  1. I’ve had the Liberation Treatment July 2010. Yes, it has stopped the progression of the debilitation of MS.

    My comments to this long rambling (very often out-dated) essay is:
    Which came first? the chicken or the egg??
    Can we see the forest for the trees?

  2. I sincerely hope this is only a rough draft. As an Anthropologist, you need to do a great deal more “digging.” The scope of your thesis is much, much too narrow and contains inaccuracies. What you are really observing is the dynamics of a resistance by the contemporary, Western scientific community to a paradigm shift which was triggered when people with MS, their families, friends and doctors learned, via social media sites, of Dr. Zamboni and an old, surpressed theory regarding MS. The recent term “Liberation Therapy” was popularized by the press and dropped by most people with MS over a year ago. However, what is most essential to include in your study is that the CCSVI-MS connection is not new! It was first documented by Dr. E Rindfleisch in 1863. “Histologisches detail zu der grauen degeneration von gehirn und ruckenmark”. Archives of Pathological Anatomy and Physiology. 1863;26:474–483. Dr. E. Rindfleisch noticed that, consistently in all the autopsy specimens of MS brains he viewed with his microscope, a vein engorged with blood was present at the centre of each lesion. There were many studies that followed:
    Dr. T. J. Putnam researched lesions and noted that thrombosis of small veins could be the underlying mechanism of plaque formation-
    Putnam, T.J. (1937) Evidence of vascular occlusion in multiple sclerosis. Dr. Robert Dow and Dr. George Berglund continue on with Dr. Putnam’s research and continue finding venous connections to MS lesions. VASCULAR PATTERN OF LESIONS OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS Arch Neurol Psychiatry. 1942;47(1):1-18. Dr. Zimmerman and Netsky carry on with Dow and Berglund’s research, and note that the lesions are indeed venous in nature, but not caused by small thrombosis as Putnam surmised. Zimmerman, H. M., Netsky, M. G.: The pathology of multiple sclerosis. Res. Publ. Ass. Nerv. Ment. Dis. New York 28, 271–312 (1950). Dr. Torben Fog, a Danish professor, noted that MS lesions are predominantly around the small veins. Fog Torben, The topography of plaques in multiple sclerosis, with special reference to cerebral plaques. Acta Neurol Scand, 41,Suppl. 15:1, 1965). Fog T. On the vessel-plaque relations in the brain in multiple sclerosis. Acta Psychiat Neurol Scand. 1963; 39, suppl. 4:258. In 1973, at the University of Innsbruck, Dr. F. Alfons Schelling, M.D. began investigations into the causes and consequences of the enormous individual differences in the widths of the venous outlets of the human skull. The results of this study appeared, in 1978, in the official organ of the German-speaking Anatomical Societies, the “Anatomischer Anzeiger.” For more information see Dr. Schelling’s website http://www.ms-info.net/evo/msmanu/984.htm.
    I believe the true scope of what you are observing is how the internet has become a catalyst for social and cultural evolution.

  3. Too much store placed in the term ‘liberation therapy’! In Italian, it implies liberation of the blocked blood flow. No one has ever claimed to cure MS.

    To suggest that the concepts behind CCSVI Treatment thus: “mysterious, scientifically unexplained nature of the procedure”, indicates a lack of research. Abnormalities in the veins of MS patients have been observed as far back as 1839. It’s really simple. Blood flows through our bodies to deliver oxygen and nutrients and to remove toxins. When the blood flows too slowly, the cells become starved for oxygen and accumulate toxins. There are several common conditions elsewhere in the body where veins become blocked or ‘stenosed’. Left untreated, dire consequences occur in the tissues that are drained by the offending veins and the tissues eventually die, provoking an immune system response. Why would the brain and nervous system be any different? You can do without a leg, but the central nervous system is a different matter altogether.

    Dr. Zamboni simply closed the loop that previous researchers, in particular Dr. Alphonse Schelling, brilliantly built. I encourage you to watch a video of Dr. Schelling speaking to a group of very hostile Polish MS neurologists. This video illustrates the real issue in this controvery; a turf war between medical disciplines.

    Paradigms are never easy to change, particularly when the stakes are high. In this case – major dollars, reputations and careers are at stake. All that we need is a capable politician capable of thinking outside the box. Apparently, this is too much to ask!

    Has the cause of MS been definitively proven? No, but most MS patients experience a short term reduction in symptom severity following treatment and therefore, improved quality of life. The prevailing ‘auto immune’ theory of MS causation is also unproven. This is after decades and billions of dollars spent in pursuit of a chemical holy grail.

    The CCSVI treatment is a safe, simple and inexpensive surgical procedure. The benefits far outweigh the minimal risks. I am baffled why the MS establishment insists on applying a pharmaceutical research template (double blind placebo controlled) to a surgical procedure. An observational study where a large group of patients receive the procedure and the outcomes are observed and documented would be more appropriate.

    You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to understand that something is very, very wrong.

  4. Thank-you Warren Stefanuk for taking the time to write up some facts//…as did xcargrl.

    Neurologists speaking out against possible discoveries in an advancement in the treatment of MS gets my system tied in a knot. Why are they doing this? In my opinion, because they have been mis treating a MIS-diagnosed disease/condition for MANY years!

    When anyone takes the time to write a thesis paper on a subject, for heavens sake go the extra mile to find the most recent, up to date and unbiased facts.

    Story at-a-glance
    Conventional medicine regards drugs as the primary option for treating multiple sclerosis (MS), but the drugs are among the most toxic used in medicine
    A 59-year-old multiple sclerosis patient died just one day after taking his first dose of the drug Gilenya, which is the first oral MS drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    Another MS drug, Tysabri, can cause progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare brain infection that results in death or severe disablement
    Dietary changes can be extremely effective in treating multiple sclerosis; Dr. Terry Wahls reversed her multiple sclerosis in a matter of months by switching to a Paleo-style diet focused on fresh raw foods, high in specific nutrients needed for proper function of both myelin and mitochondria

    By Dr. Mercola

    Multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs are some of the most toxic drugs used in the field of medicine, and while it is my strong recommendation not to use them, conventional physicians often offer them as a first-line treatment.

    This is especially tragic because there are other options for fighting MS, namely nutrition to support and heal your brain and central nervous system, which I’ll explain shortly.

    Unfortunately, many MS patients take drugs because they are not aware that alternatives exist, and this can be a deadly decision.

    In fact, a 59-year-old multiple sclerosis patient died last month within 24 hours of taking Gilenya, which is the first oral drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce relapses and delay disability progression in patients with relapsing forms of MS.

    While the FDA is still evaluating the case to determine if, in fact, the drug resulted in the patient’s death, it’s already known the drug can cause serious side effects, to the extent that all patients must be monitored for slow heart rate for six hours after they first take the drug.

    Multiple Sclerosis Drugs Can be Deadly
    When you take drugs for multiple sclerosis, you may very well be trading MS for another set of potentially deadly drug-related symptoms. In the case of Gilenya, which is one of the newer MS drugs approved in September 2010, the FDA states:

    “Gilenya may cause serious side effects, such as slow heart rate (bradycardia), which may be related to slowed conduction of electrical impulses from the upper chambers of the heart to the lower chambers of the heart. These effects usually do not cause symptoms, but they can cause dizziness, fatigue, and palpitations.”

    Other serious risks, as noted by the drug’s manufacturer Web site, include:

    •Increased risk of serious infections, as the drug lowers the number of white blood cells in your blood. Two patients died who took higher-dose Gilenya, which increases the risk of infection
    •Macular edema, a vision problem that can cause some of the same vision symptoms as an MS attack
    •Breathing problems
    •Liver problems and increases in blood pressure
    •Harm to a woman’s unborn baby, and therefore contraindicated during pregnancy or breastfeeding
    Brain Infection, Immune System Problems and More
    An older MS drug, Tysabri, was slated to be the “miracle” drug for MS when it hit the market in 2004 because the results from the first year of clinical trials showed that MS patients who took Tysabri for one year had a 66 percent reduction in relapses compared to those who took a placebo.

    Tysabri is a type of drug known as a monoclonal antibody, meaning it is derived from a mouse antibody that has been genetically engineered to mirror a human antibody (antibodies are proteins that help your body fight infection). Unlike Gilenya, which is taken orally, Tysabri is given every four weeks by infusion directly into a vein, where the antibodies bind to immune system cells, inhibiting them from crossing over from the bloodstream to the brain.

    However, if destructive immune system cells break free of the bloodstream, they can reach your brain, gastrointestinal tract and joints and cause severe damage, including progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare brain infection that results in death or severe disablement. The drug was pulled from the market after just three months because of this deadly risk – but years later the FDA allowed it to return!

    Other toxic MS medications include:

    •Prednisone, a steroid hormone that can significantly impair your immune system, and cause diseases like osteoporosis and cataracts
    •Interferon. This drug is quite deceptive, because even though it’s a natural substance, it’s typically given in a dose that shuts down your body’s natural feedback loop. As a result, it tends to do more harm than good
    So what, then, are your options other than drugs if you’re struggling with MS? Many conventional physicians would have you believe there are none, but they obviously have not heard Dr. Terry Wahls’ inspiring story of how she reversed her multiple sclerosis by switching to a Paleo-style diet focused on fresh raw foods, high in specific nutrients needed for proper function of myelin and mitochondria.

    The Power of Proper Nutrition for MS
    In the video above, Dr. Terry Wahls explains how she reversed multiple sclerosis after seven years of deterioration on the best conventional treatments available — simply by changing her diet!

    She began to notice significant improvement in just three months, and at the nine-month mark of her new diet, she was able to go on an 18-mile bike ride! This is astounding when you consider that over the past seven years her condition had deteriorated to the point that she had to sit in a reclined zero-gravity chair and could only walk short distances using two canes.

    What was the diet? Well, Dr. Wahls looked into a number of diseases that cause brain shrinkage, including not only MS but also Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. One common denominator in these conditions is poorly functioning mitochondria, and Dr. Wahls discovered that three nutrients in particular are essential for proper mitochondrial function:

    1.Animal-based omega-3 fat
    3.Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), or better yet, the reduced version known as Ubiquinol
    Just by adding those three to her diet, her decline began to slow. But it wasn’t until she adjusted her diet for optimal mitochondrial-, myelin-, and neurotransmitter function that she began to improve. She also eliminated processed foods, grains, and starches (which includes potatoes and corn), and within a matter of months experienced astounding improvements.

    In short, she altered her diet to reflect the Paleo-style diet of the hunter-gatherers of old as follows:

    •3 cups daily (equal to one dinner plate, piled high) of green leaves, such as kale, which are high in vitamins in the B group, A, C, K, and minerals
    •3 cups daily of sulfur-rich vegetables from the cabbage- and onion- families, mushrooms and asparagus
    •3 cups daily of brightly colored vegetables, fruits and/or berries, which are a good source of antioxidants
    •Wild fish for animal-based omega-3’s
    •Grass-fed meat
    •Organ meats for vitamins, minerals and CoQ10
    •Seaweed for iodine and selenium
    You Don’t Have to Risk Your Life to Recover from MS
    If you are diagnosed with MS, you need to understand that taking potentially deadly drugs is not your only option — and that optimizing your diet can have truly profound implications for your health. Dr. Wahls is a poster-child for the complete lack of benefit gleaned from such drug treatments, and the profound healing that can be achieved using nutrition, and her dietary recommendations are spot-on.

    I’d like to add a few other strategies as well, and below is a summary of my lifestyle recommendations for MS. Many are identical to the general-health principles I’ve been teaching for years, but a few stand out as being specifically applicable to the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as MS.

    •Optimize your vitamin D levels – This is an essential step, as there are well over a dozen studies showing a link between MS and vitamin D deficiency. While the optimal level for general health lies between 50-70 ng/ml, when treating diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or autoimmune diseases, your level should ideally be somewhere between 70-100 ng/ml. The preferred method to raise (and maintain) your vitamin D levels is by regularly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine, or by using a safe tanning bed. If neither is available, you can use an oral supplement of vitamin D3.

    As a general guideline, vitamin D experts recommend 8,000 IU’s per day for adults, and about 35 IU’s per pound for children, but you should take as much as is necessary to elevate and maintain your blood levels within the optimal range.
    •Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats – Secondly, make sure you’re getting a good supply of animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. You also need to avoid damaged, processed fats found in most all processed foods. Especially damaging are the omega-6 fats found in soy-, canola-, and corn oil. These are usually highly oxidized and also contain trans fats and cyclic fats that imbed themselves into your cell membranes, distorting the cellular functions.

    Even when organic and cold-pressed, the over consumption of these omega-6 rich oils can ignite an inflammatory cascade within our bodies, as the American diet generally contains 20-40 times more omega-6 fatty acids (relative to omega-3 fatty acids) than our bodies are designed to handle; this omega-6/omega-3 imbalance results in the formation of excessive arachidonic acid – the very fuel upon which enzymes like Cox-2 feed, resulting in uncontrollable inflammation. Also, the majority of these three oils are also genetically engineered, which can have its own set of health ramifications.
    •Eliminate sugar, particularly fructose – Another crucial element is to eliminate as much sugar and fructose as possible from your diet. Cutting out processed foods and sweetened beverages will go a long way to reduce excess fructose, in addition to eliminating the majority of damaging fats in your diet. You simply must keep your daily total fructose intake below 25 grams.

    If you haven’t yet grasped the toxic nature and profound health dangers of fructose, now’s the time to get with it. Sugar can contribute to the development of a number of autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. It also increases uric acid levels, which leads to chronic, low-level inflammation, which has far-reaching consequences for your health.
    •Eliminate pasteurized milk and dairy—This is another critical element. Studies have shown that cow’s milk consumption is correlated with MS prevalence (Neuroepidemiology 1992;11:304-12 and Neuroepidemiology 1993;12:15-27). In fact, a specific antibody cross-reactivity between myelin oligodendrocyte (a component of neurological tissue) and the cow’s milk protein butyrophillin was identified in 2004, likely contributing to the immune system of MS patients losing self-tolerance and attacking their own nervous system.
    •Avoid aspartame and commercial fruit juices. Aspartame rapidly metabolizes to methanol, a potent neurotoxin. Additionally fruits and vegetables are also loaded with methanol but when they are consumed fresh it is bound to pectin and your body does not have the enzymes to break it down. However when fruits and vegetables are processed and put into glass jars or cans the methanol dissociates and can be liberated in high quantities.
    •Eat plenty of raw food. This is an important principle for optimal health that I normally recommend for everyone. However, I’ve found that for people with severe autoimmune disease, it’s even more important. Some of the most dramatic improvements we’ve seen in patients using nutritional changes have come about as the result of eating a majority of their food raw instead of cooked.
    •Fermented Vegetables. Optimizing your gut bacteria may be one of the most profound ways to improve your health. In the near future I will be doing a large number of interviews with Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride that go into great detail on how to implement these valuable foods and many other details of recovery.
    •Check your iron levels. Excess iron can cause damage to the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels as well as create massive amounts of free radicals. It can also damage your DNA. Therefore, if you have MS it is very important to check your blood for iron overload, a process that is easily done through a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test. The healthy range of serum ferritin lies between 20 and 80 ng/ml. Below 20, you are iron deficient, and above 80, you have an iron surplus. Ferritin levels can go really high. I’ve seen levels over 1,000, but anything over 80 is likely going to be a problem. The ideal range is between 40-60 ng/ml.

    If you find that your iron levels are high, simply donate your blood. Normally a person would require 1-3 blood draws per year, up to as many as one per month if your system can tolerate it, until your ferritin levels have been sufficiently lowered.
    •Low-dose Naltrexone and alpha lipoic acid. One of the newer treatment strategies for MS is low dose Naltrexone (LDN), along with alpha lipoic acid. Naltrexone (generic name) is a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist, conventionally used to treat drug- and alcohol addiction – normally at doses of 50mg to 300mg. As such, it’s been an FDA-approved drug for over two decades.

    However, at very low dosages (3 to 4.5 mg), naltrexone has immunomodulating properties that may be able to successfully treat cancer malignancies and a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis. As explained on the informative website http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org, when you take LDN at bedtime — which blocks your opioid receptors for a few hours in the middle of the night — it is believed to up-regulate vital elements of your immune system by increasing your body’s production of metenkephalin and endorphins (your natural opioids), hence improving immune function.

    Dr. Bert Berkson is an expert on this regimen. For more information about his findings and successes using this combination, please review this previous article.
    •Mercury detox. Mercury is clearly a neurotoxic poison that should be avoided, so avoiding fish and refusing or removing mercury dental amalgams are also important aspects. Certain supplements can also help eliminate mercury from your system, such as chlorella, and OSR (Oxidative Stress Reliever) developed by Dr. Boyd Haley.
    •Explore natural alternatives. There are actually a wide range of natural substances that may provide safe and effective alternatives to the current drugs on the market used to treat MS. To explore the research further you can visit GreenMedInfo.com’s MS page to access the published research.
    •Address early childhood emotional traumas. Last but certainly not least, in my experience with MS patients, there is nearly always a precipitating traumatic emotional event that causes your immune system to crash, leading to the disease. Just as vitamin D deficiency seems to be present in most cases of autoimmune disease, there is also typically an emotional element involved. More often than not, some form of hidden emotional wound can be found in patients suffering with autoimmune diseases like MS.

    Typically, this wounding occurred at a very young age, almost always before the age of 7, and often before the age of 5. Issues related to this event need to be addressed by using an effective energy psychology tool like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but only with the help of an experienced practitioner.

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