THE 50/50 APPROACH©

Jan Jenkins, President of Your MS Compass, designed The 50/50 Approach. This is a straightforward and practical plan that combines medical management (50%) with life management strategies (50%).  When both halves are combined, you are more likely to achieve success with managing MS, symptoms and quality of life.  The plan is based on the scientific principles and research currently available.

Many approaches or plans you may hear about offer promises of cures based on diet OR medication OR alternative treatments OR lifestyle changes alone.  Most are unfounded in science and can even cause harm in some cases.  Science is showing that managing MS and symptoms requires a multidimensional approach be successful.

Science has demonstrated that those with diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, etc., achieve much higher success rates when prescribed medications are taken and lifestyle behaviors are modified to promote health. Some people actually return their bodies to a normal state of health and achieve the success of a long, healthy and quality life as a result. Some even reverse the original illness with the combination.

Science is slowly making the case to demonstrate similar relationships of these multiple dimensions to MS. With the variability of MRI findings, MS attacks and fluctuations in symptoms, it has proven difficult in research to produce clean scientific results specific to MS.  There are currently studies underway to learn more and may ultimately offer specific guidance on which interventions and behaviors are most impactful (good and bad) to MS.  Meanwhile we can use the available science to guide our paths to success in managing MS.

The images of trees were selected to demonstrate the potential impact of only focusing your attention and efforts on one half – either medical management or lifestyle choices alone.  By only focusing your attention on one half and not the other, part of the tree suffers and will ultimately have a negative impact on the whole tree.  To achieve a full, healthy green tree, you must focus your efforts on both halves.  The more effort and the more dimensions you include, the more likely you are to succeed in your path. 

FIRST 50% – MEDICAL MANAGEMENT

The science is clear that if you work with an MS Specialist and use a disease modifying therapy (DMT) it promotes success in your disease management. Research shows the benefits of beginning DMT medicines early in relapsing forms of MS and the long-term value of staying on the medicines as prescribed. Studies show that use of DMTs offers varied results including: reductions in relapse rates, slowing the disease progression, a reduction of MRI lesions, and the possibility of a reduction or slowing of disability in MS. That is exciting news!

There are many DMTs available, and each offers a different approach to altering parts of the immune system to treat MS. Your MS Specialist will work with you to choose one that is best for your specific needs. Some of the medications are now also used for progressive forms of MS. Have a conversation with your MS Specialist to discuss your options and follow up periodically – more medications are coming in the near future.

Working with an MS Specialist and building a health care team to manage specific MS issues, symptoms and general health is part of this plan.  Everyone should have a primary care physician (PCP) to manage your general health. Children with MS also require a primary pediatrician for general health care.  This may seem obvious, but sometimes it can be easy to focus on the MS and forget about the rest of your body. Other specialists to consider may include a gynecologist for women’s health issues, a medical specialist for other illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, etc., and the list goes on!  You have other health needs, too, just like every other person.

The 50/50 Approach focuses on every aspect of your health and every part of your body. People with MS may also require specialized care from an ophthalmologist, urologist, psychologist/psychiatrist, etc., for specific MS symptoms. Talk with your provider to determine the best medical care plan for your particular needs.

SECOND 50% – LIFESTYLE MANAGEMENT

The second half is just as important as the first half.  In order to have the greatest opportunity for success, it is important to focus your efforts on lifestyle practices that positively impact your overall health, your MS and the symptoms experienced. There are now many scientific studies that show a direct relationship between lifestyle practices / behaviors and overall success with managing MS symptoms.  Due to the nature of problems that come along with MS and symptoms (e.g. decreases in physical activity levels) some people with MS develop other illnesses that can often be prevented or at least reduced.  Keep in mind, anything that harms your body can potentially impact your MS and your symptoms.

Basic healthy activities have shown to positively impact MS and symptoms at various levels.  These include (yes, you guessed it) better nutrition, physical activity, healthy sleep & rest patterns, stress management and relaxation.  A great deal of effort is going into current research with a focus on the impact of these elements on MS and symptoms.  In the coming years, we will have more answers as to what specific elements of nutrition, physical activity, sleep patterns, stress and other illnesses, have the greatest impact on MS and symptoms.

Reducing and/or eliminating health-destroying behaviors is crucial for overall health. Behaviors such as smoking, using tobacco products, excessive alcohol intake, use of recreational drugs, addictions of any kind – these all have a negative impact on the health of your body, mind or spirit. They are behaviors that you can work to change to improve overall health and wellness as well as reduce the potential negative impact of these on MS and symptoms.

Our attitudes and beliefs about life experiences in general and experiences with MS specifically will also impact our success.  There are many studies that show that much of our suffering is often related our thoughts and attitudes toward events and not on the event (or illness) itself.  There are also studies that show many health benefits when we have a more positive and productive way of approaching unpleasant life events.

Conclusion: 50 + 50 = 100

Is this plan extreme?  Not really.  Then again, MS and the destruction it brings, has the potential to make an extreme mess of our central nervous system and our lives.  MS Specialists agree that people who start and remain on MS disease modifying therapies (DMTs), work to manage their symptoms, and focus on building healthy bodies and attitudes, tend to have the greatest potential for success with managing their MS. 

Questions to Consider:  If lifestyle practices impact most every other system in the body, why would we think that the central nervous system is unaffected?  Is there a reason to wait for the studies specific to MS to be concluded before making positive changes?  Will an unhealthy body impact potential healing or remyelination of nerves?

* In the coming months, Your MS Compass will provide educational articles to offer more information on specific aspects of The 50/50 Approach to Managing MS and how to incorporate these concepts into your life.  Meanwhile, begin observing your current lifestyle practices and monitoring any impact on your MS and your symptoms.

A note from Jan Jenkins

For the first six years after having a positive MRI for MS, I did not take an active role in my care. I was not taking a disease modifying medication, I was not seeing an MS Specialist and I was not living a healthy lifestyle.  Five MS attacks later, the inability to walk independently and a recommendation to purchase a scooter and consider going on disability, made me rethink my approach. I decided to make a change. This is when I began creating The 50/50 Approach and became an active participant in my medical care and my health. I began working with an MS Specialist and started on a disease modifying therapy (DMT). I began educating myself on healthy behavior options and slowly implementing changes into my life. My focus changed to working with my health care professionals to manage the MS rather than ignoring it or fighting it. I am now 21 years out and continue to maintain a healthier body, mind and spirit.  Is it easy?  Not always. Is the MS gone?  No.  But, there are many, many more good days and far fewer not so good days. I am still very active, have a high level of function, a stable MRI and enjoy my quality of life. I feel a sense of control that I did not have previously and my symptoms are managed much better now. New studies are now coming out that support this type of approach to managing MS and symptoms. I have seen this approach change other’s lives for the better and now I want to share it with you.