Emotional health is important when battling any illness, including multiple sclerosis (MS). Despite this, sometimes the benefits of emotional health are overlooked by healthcare providers. Excessive stress can lead to anxiety and depression, which increases hormones such as adrenalin and glucocorticoids that shut down the immune system. Glucocorticoids have well-known negative effects on the nervous system.
It is no surprise then that two research teams, including one supported by the National MS Society, are studying ways to increase emotional wellness in people with MS.
For example, Kimberly Beckwith McGuire, PhD, and her co-workers at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, NJ published a recent report on their evaluation of a psychoeducational MS wellness program in the International Journal of MS Care. The scientists studied forty-three people with MS who participated in a 10-week wellness program. The program involved 90-minute group sessions aimed at increasing awareness of social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual factors. Eleven people with MS who were not in the program served as controls. The subjects filled out surveys to assess depression, anxiety, stress, cognition, pain, social support, and fatigue.
The group participating in the wellness program experienced statistically significant reductions in depression, anxiety, overall mental health, perceived stress, and pain compared to the controls. The program could serve as a model for the supplemental treatment of people with MS in general.
A second study published in BioMedCentral Psychiatry by Dr. Keryn L. Taylor and collaborators examined 2459 people with MS who filled out an online survey capturing information on demographics; diagnostic history; level of disability; conditions occurring alongside MS; fatigue; depression; and lifestyle and health behaviors.
About one-fifth of people in this study had depression. Within that group, about 93% had clinically significant fatigue. Poor diet seemed to increase the risk for depression. In fact, dietary factors also decreased the risk for depression, including taking omega-3 fatty acids (particularly flaxseed oil) supplements and vitamin D supplements, eating fish regularly, meditating, and consuming moderate alcohol.
The results of these two studies are promising and underscore the importance of not just managing the symptoms of MS, but also paying attention to emotional health and lifestyle factors.
Further research on lifestyle factors and their impact on MS is a priority of the National MS society, so additional studies of this nature are likely in the works. Hopefully this research will have a positive impact on improving the quality of life of those with the disease.