Have you been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or feeling symptoms but have not received a diagnosis? Perhaps you’ve been given a diagnosis of “suspicious MS”. MS is an autoimmune condition that affects the Central Nervous System and causes symptoms like numbness, tingling, pain, loss or coordination and balance, and other neurological changes.

This week on IWG Radio, Dr. Nicole Rivera and Brooke Scheller discuss the mechanism behind autoimmune conditions to the CNS and why you may have received a diagnosis of MS.

Learn more about Functional Medicine here.

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Nicole Rivera: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of Integrative Wellness Radio. I am doctor Nicole Rivera and I am here with Brooke Scheller, the functional medicine nutritionist at Integrative Wellness Group. We work side by side here in Belmar, providing integrative medicine to our clients, and today we're going to talk about multiple sclerosis, better known as MS. And really, some of the different symptoms associated with it and how that can overlap with other conditions that really might be the root cause to this symptoms onset in the first place.

Brooke Scheller: We were inspired to do this podcast today, because recently we had spoken with a few different people that had been diagnosed with possible MS or something like suspicious MS, not necessarily that they had the extreme diagnoses or they had a lot of the symptoms, but when they had some testing done, like an MRI for example, there were changes in the brain that may lead physicians to believe that the process or the auto immune process had begun.

So, we wanted to bring you some information to clarify if you or someone who is experiencing some symptoms of MS, or if you've had a diagnosis of MS, kind of different ways that you can look at and approach this type of diagnosis. So, I want to get started asking Doctor Nicole to give us some of the symptoms that are really associated with MS.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah, I think the symptoms can definitely vary based off of the patient. Some patients are going to experience different types of visual problems, they might find that their vision is becoming blurry, they're having some eye pain, they might even be diagnosed with macular degeneration. We have other patients that are really having more of the onset of pain within the body, pain within the joints, stiffness, which then starts to lead to numbness, tingling, involuntarily movements, and then a loss of their balancing coordination.

[00:03:00] So, that is a very common thing that we hear, is people are finding that they are ... just even stepping off a curb becomes a problem, they're falling over, they're having accidents, they're falling down the stairs, and they find that this becomes somewhat of a pattern and it's happening more frequently than it ever has, and it starts to get them maybe thinking there might be something more going on.

There are other more subtle things that can be happening like fatigue, cramping, again some of the even minor joint pain. And then for some of the more extreme cases, you might even have some level of partial paralysis that doesn't last, but you might be waking up with what we call bell's palsy, which is facial paralysis. Or you might even kind of lose the capabilities to use your arm for a period of time.

Some of this will last, some of it will resolve, but again, these are all really signs and symptoms that there's something neurologically going on, or something that is stressing the neurological system.

Brooke Scheller: So, this is typically the point where someone starts to say, I would say minor symptoms come on. So, maybe some numbness and tingling, or fatigue and joint paint, and we kind of chalk those up to being, "Oh, maybe I'm getting a little bit older, maybe I'm working too hard, my stress levels are high." But, I fell like later on down the line where maybe some of these more extreme things are starting to come into play, loss of coordination, balance, and things like that, that people are actually starting to seek out care.

But, I think what's really interesting about a lot of the symptoms that you're mentioning is that they sound like symptoms that can be correlated with a lot of different things. So, for example, some of theses more neurological type of symptoms, so, coordination, balance, sound a little bit more neurological related, but thing like joint pain, or muscle stiffness, or fatigue, even headaches, blurry vision can have correlation to a lot of other different types of conditions. So, I want to have you go through and elude to maybe where some of these other things might be coming from.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah, and I think that this is a good disclaimer to make, is that the different things that we're going to dive in to talking about are different things that are not always looked at by a regular primary care physician. Because of our training in integrative medicine, we really are looking at the whole person and we're taking a deeper dive into trying to understand why someone is having specific symptoms.

We find that in our medical system, most people, what they have as a diagnosis, is just a description of their symptoms. So, the diagnosis actually gives zero information as to what is the root cause for why they're experiencing the symptoms. In our type of work, what we do is we use the right testing, and the right type of evaluation and consultation to figure out what is the root cause.

So, when we're going through and we're getting feedback of an array of different symptoms, usually there is little red flags going off for us and we're starting to kind of be able to know what we're going to test for. As an example, talking about all of these symptoms associated with MS, the first couple of things that I think immediately before somebody even steps in my door and I look at their paperwork, and I know that they have a diagnosis of MS, is I start thinking mold, I think the possibility of Lyme disease, and I also start thinking the possibility of the Epstein–Barr virus being in their system.

To elaborate further on that, when you actually look into Lyme and if you were to go online and look at the symptoms associated with it, you might be finding people talking about joint stiffness, joint pain, they might have aches, they might have had a lot of different replacement surgeries. Knee replacements, hip replacements, because ... go ahead.

Brooke Scheller: Maybe diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Nicole Rivera: Diagnosed with fibromyalgia. These people are also usually dealing with some level of neurological disfunction. They're also dealing with possibly buzzing in the body, the way I describe it, is if you have your cellphone on you and it vibrates, that can be the sensation that they're feeling, but they're feeling it really randomly. They're not feeling it on a consistent basis, it just kind of comes and it goes, and they're like, "Oh, what was that?"

Brooke Scheller: Almost like an electric shock.

Nicole Rivera: [00:07:30] Exactly. They also might be having the numbness and tingling, they might be having brain fog, they might also starting to have lack of coordination because the neurological system is stressed. They also might be having different issues with their eyes. So, the thing to really understand about Lyme, is Lyme is in the connective tissue.

So, for those of you who don't understand what that means, connective tissue is the tissue that connects all of your joints. It also anchors your organs in place, and it also is what most of your organs are actually made of. So, that's why when they talk about different connective tissue disorders like Lupus, they say that they can be very, very extreme when they start to affect the organs.

But, Lyme, the bacteria associated with Lyme, Borrelia, actually hides out in connective tissue. So, it is very, very common that the connective tissue will be compromised and everybody is different. Some people have actual spine pain, they might have low back pain, neck pain. We have other people that had knee problems, we have other people that have eye issues, and we even have other people that have esophagus issues. They might have thyroids, or ulcers because that's also soft tissue. So, it's always very interesting how the Lyme can manifest in people, but a hundred percent can look very similar to what we call MS.

Outside of that, I think one of the biggest things that we find extreme, extreme overlap in symptoms, is mold exposure. And this is something that for Brooke and I, working with patients, we bring up this conversation and inquire about mold, and usually the first response is, "No, I'm good. I have never been exposed." And as we dig a little bit deeper, we find that people are experiencing different symptoms in certain environments. Sometimes it's their workplace, sometimes it's their car. And at some part of their life, they've had some level of mold exposure, it's just too common nowadays. Especially in a lot of these older buildings, especially if you work in cities; New York City, being a very, very old city. Or you live near water, which we do here at the Jersey Shore.

The mold is something that, when that immediate response is, "No, I've never been exposed." We usually don't take that as the definitive, we usually dig a little bit deeper.

Brooke Scheller: And also, sinus issues is kind of one of those key giveaways, I would say for mold. So, if you're struggling with sinus issues, I know a lot of us think that's so common. But, they're may be some correlation back to a past exposure that you had, and I know a lot of clients will come in and say, "Yeah, a couple years ago, all of a sudden I just developed allergies." If that's something that's playing a role as well, that might be able to elude you to thinking it might be.

Nicole Rivera: Well, I'm glad you said allergies too, because we have ... I'm using quotes. Quote on quote. Seasonal allergies. So much of the time, it's either when the heat is kicking on, or the air conditioning is kicking on in our homes, and that is when if different things are burrowed in our heating and air conditioning systems, they start to get circulated though the air, and then all of a sudden, we're having this exasperation of symptoms, and sometimes mold is in the ventilation systems in our homes.

We find it quite commonly in these people that are dealing with the sinus issues as well as dealing with the seasonal allergies.

So, kind of getting into the symptoms associated with mold. We mentioned the buzzing in the body, how that can be consistent with Lyme, it also can be very consistent with mold, and the reason being is people that have mold in their system they tend to lose a ton of their electrolytes. They lose electrolytes through their skin, they lose it through their urine. So, they find themselves urinating frequently, which is one of the symptoms of MS.

They also find that losing the electrolytes, salt, being one of those through the skin, makes you more electrically charged. So, you can have- get electric shocked very easily, have buzzing sensations, or even have exasperation of numbness and tingling as well.

Brain fog, big issues with word recollection, really not being able to find your words, which I know it kind of equates to, "Oh, well, you're brain is being compromised and damaged by the MS. So, that's why that's happening." Excessive thirst, again because they're losing their electrolytes, the frequent urination; I already mentioned. Sinus issues, headaches, and also temperature issues. They might find that hands and feet are cold, and again, is being equated to, "Oh, well, you're having neurological damage." But, sometimes that is actually a dysregulation of hormones due to the mold.

Brooke Scheller: Or they're experiencing night sweats.

Nicole Rivera: Yes. And they're body is heating up in order to kill off the mold, or the Lyme, or whatever is in the system. So, that is something really important, I think to take away in general, even if you do not have MS. If you're that type of person that is ripping the covers off of yourself at night, or you always have to have the fan because you're just so hot, your body is in rest and repair mode at that point.

So, it's very common that your body is going to heat up, almost like a low-grade fever in order to kill off whatever your body is trying fight.

Brooke Scheller: I'm glad that you mentioned the lack or maybe the misdiagnosis that can occur, because people might go to their primary care physician first. Their primary care physician might say, "Oh, these symptoms sound like MS. Let me refer you to a neurologist." So, right off the bat, we're kind of skipping a couple steps of testing. If there is something like Lyme, they're not going to an infectious disease doctor, or seeking out alternative type of care. They're going straight to the neurologist. The neurologist is running tests and then slapping that diagnosis on.

So, I thought that that was kind of an interesting that came up for me when I was listening to you talk and saying, "A lot of times, people aren't even getting any type of baseline testing done on how their immune system is functioning if there is any type of infections in the picture, anything like that."

Nicole Rivera: Well, that's what I say to people now is that we are looking at some of the major things that are burrowed in the system. Infections that are burrowed in the system that are wreaking havoc on the body and they are creating hormonal imbalances, and they're creating neurological symptoms. They're creating gastro-intestinal distress. We find that as we help people to eliminate these different infections, that they're having tremendous success and they're really not having it even close to as many symptoms as they were associated with whatever they're specific diagnosis has been.

[00:14:30] One of the things that I wanted to mention also, is we mentioned prior that you might've had an MRI, and you might have had lesions on the brain, and that might be one of the reasons why you're being diagnosed with MS also. One of the really interesting things about Lyme's disease is Lyme very often does not live alone. It usually lives with other co-infections, and there are certain co-infections in the parasite world. One of that being Babesia, that really affects our iron levels within the body. If your iron is getting eaten up and consumed by different organisms in your body, it's not that the iron just disappears, it's that the iron becomes damaged and oxidized, and your body can't really use it anymore.

As your body tries to get rid of this excess iron, some of it will kind of get burrowed into different tissues of the body, and it's very common that you can have massive iron deposits in the brain, which then upon an MRI can look like lesions. This is definitely something that we find quite often and we find that again, as their body is starting to kill off some of these organisms that should not be there, that sometimes the lesions improve or they stop progressing. It's really again, it's not that you're doing anything to the brain directly, it's your resolving the issue with the iron in the first place, which is caused by an organism that should not be in the body.

Brooke Scheller: Yeah, and we were mentioning, I was just reading an article last night by Doctor David Perlmutter, who is a neurologist who specializes in different things like Alzheimer's, and dementia, and those types of conditions. But, for more of a functional perspective. And he was actually talking about the correlation between gluten sensitivity and lesions on the brain.

Not sure if there is a mechanism behind if gluten is causing some inflammatory process or something like that. But, there are other reasons as to why the lesions may appear on the brain, not necessarily just caused by this auto-immune condition.

Nicole Rivera: [00:16:30] Yeah, definitely. And also, what we find so interesting about what we do is, it's very rare that somebody has one thing. It's very rare that you just have Lyme's disease in your body, it's very rare that you just have mold in your body. Unfortunately, they like to hang out with each other. It's very common that there is kind of an array of different things happening, and we do find heavy metals in a lot of peoples bodies, things like aluminum and mercury.

Some of you that are not familiar, you might be saying like, "Why in the world would I have those types of things in my body?" If you're a person using antiperspirant, you're putting aluminum on your armpit area everyday. If you are someone who eats fish, you are a hundred percent getting exposed to mercury. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is now. If you have fillings in your teeth, you have mercury in your system. If you have had any level of vaccinations, especially childhood vaccinations, then there is some level of heavy metal exposure.

These are things just to consider, that we're exposed to these different types of chemicals on a day-to-day basis and these are also contributing factors to effecting our neurological system. There are many people that have massive amounts of mercury in their system that can manifest as MS as well, or symptoms of MS, I should say.

[00:17:30] It's very important to understand the bigger picture before you go on an immune suppressant, which is the primary therapy. They're trying to shut down the immune system saying, "Well, the immune system is attacking the body." But at the end of the day, what types of infections are burrowed within your neurological system that is causing your immune system to attack that area? Your immune system doesn't turn on your body, it turns on the foreign substances that are in the neurological tissue.

Speaking of that, one of the things that I mentioned earlier, that I have not talked about yet is the Epstein–Barr virus. So, for those of you familiar with mono, a lot of young individuals get mono and they're kind of out of commission, they're really, really tired for about a month or two, and they usually have to be homeschooled. They say that mono is caused by the Epstein–Barr virus.

Some of the newer research that's coming out, they're finding that the Epstein–Barr virus doesn't really end there. It's not that you get the mono and then you're out of commission for about a month or two, and then you recover and you're fine. They're actually finding that the Epstein–Barr virus is something that later in life, especially as we age and our hormones start to change, that sometimes the Epstein–Barr virus can kick back up, moving into a more progressive phase and starts to create a lot of toxins that are very, very toxic toward neurological system.

Some people that have this Epstein–Barr in their system and it progresses, can start to develop vertigo. They can develop balance issues, they can develop lack of coordination, they can develop brain fog, fatigue. So, the Epstein–Barr virus, if you know that that's in your system and you've seen it on blood work, and especially as a woman, maybe you had a child, maybe you had a few children and you feel like your body is not doing well, you feel like things have changed, you're really feeling fatigued.

But, you're kind of a mystery case, nobody really knows what's wrong with you, or you're someone who's in perimenopause or approaching that, and you feel again, like your body is kind of shutting down on you, you really want to consider, "Is this Epstein–Barr kind of resurfacing and starting to wreak havoc on my body?" And there's a lot of things you can do about it, but again, it's really kind of just a matter of knowing and getting the right testing.

Brooke Scheller:
Yeah, and with that being said, I really wanted to talk a little bit more about some of the conventional tests and diagnostics versus some of the different types of things we would do in a functional setting.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah, of course. Well, the most typical way of diagnosing MS is going to be a combination of blood work, spinal tap, as well as MRIs. There's really not that many great markers in the blood for MS. really, the way that you're going to diagnose primarily is going to be MRI and it's also going to be that spinal tap. They're looking in the spinal tap for the antibodies that are attacking the myelin sheaths, which is pretty much the coating on our nerves.

Some of the things that we would do is we would obviously want to rule in or out if Lyme is playing a role, if mold is playing a role, if viruses are playing a role. Shingles included too, because we do find that shingles can create a lot of neurological issues as well. It's not always going to manifest as that skin lesions that we seen on TV. sometimes you can just be having major inflammation to your nerves internally.

So, we would make sure to test for all of those things. So, with Lyme, in addition to mold and Epstein–Barr, shingles, and other viruses, we can run most things in the blood work, which is great. So, most of it is covered by people's insurance. When it comes to Lyme, though, something that we do use is we can sometimes outsource to a company called IGeneX. They are a little bit more accurate for getting a clear picture about Lyme.

But, we also use something called Autonomic Response Testing in our practice that we pair together with labs. And we find this very, very helpful because the Autonomic Response Testing taps into the body to kind of figure out what is burrowed really deep in this system that doesn't always come up on labs.

Mold, we also can ... if mold does come up positive in some of the blood testing that we do, we might outsource to a company called RealTime Labs and do a mycotoxin urine test, which gives us information about different types of mycotoxins which are very damaging to the neurological system, and see if those are present.

And then the last thing that we do before necessarily sending anybody out for a spinal tap, is there's a company called Cyrex Labs, and they are pioneering an autoimmune testing. And they do have a pretty comprehensive autoimmune panel that focuses on the neurological system. And they do tests for antibodies against the myelin amongst other things. They do have a antibodies against different parts of the brain, including the cerebellum.

So, this is something that we will use kind of before we would outsource for an invasive procedure, like a spinal tap. So, this all together is very, very helpful for getting a clear picture as to if MS is part of the puzzle. But, in addition, also looking at what is really in the body that could be causing it.

Brooke Scheller: So, I think it would be great if we could give our listeners some information about what we might do in this situation, whether it actually is MS or maybe its some of these other things that are going on. How would we approach that and support that?

Nicole Rivera: Well, based off of what comes back in the labs ... one of the things that I would say is really great about our practice and what sets us apart is the fact that when we- I mentioned this Autonomic Response Testing prior, we use it for diagnostics. Again, paired with all of the laboratory analysis. One of the really fantastic things that Doctor Nick does, is he will actually test for the most appropriate supplementation for that person.

If somebody is also on any type of medications or is thinking about going on medications, he also can test the body to see if the body is resonating with those types of medications. So, we are able to actually figure out exactly what the treatment plan is according to supplements, herbs, medication, and even dietary recommendations.

So, it's very, very custom to the person and what I always find so interesting is we can have two different people in front of us with such a similar diagnosis, similar labs, similar infections, and when he's tests them for supplements, they could be needing completely different support. We had a young kid in the other day, and he had Lyme in his system, he also had mold exposure. But, his supplements that his body was responding to were strictly brain related. And I found that so interesting that the body was actually not ready to shed the infections, if we did go that route, he might have actually felt really bad, felt sick, and felt like he was detoxing. But, his body was like, "I need to get the brain working better before I'm ready to detox."

So, it never ceases to amaze me with how different everybody is. But, outside of that, I always tell people, "There's phases depending on where it comes back." The first phase is usually, "Clean it out. Get the things out of your body that's not supposed to be there, heavy metals, infections, et cetera." And then it's a repair phase. It's starting to repair the parts of the body that need to be repaired, and also replenishing the things that your body has been missing.

I know so many of us are on multivitamins, we're on B vitamins, we're on all these things to try to get us functioning better or replenish the nutrients we're not maybe getting from our diet. So many of us are not even absorbing those things.

Brooke Scheller: Or having expensive urine.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah. That's a very good way to put it. Yeah, we're not absorbing it because of these underline things that are in our bodies, again, that are not supposed to be there. So, it's really a two-part process but one of the other things that is really great about Integrative Wellness Group is we also have a detox spa. So, we really help to bridge the gap, it's not just about diet, it's not just about supplements, those are very important. Some people need infrared sauna, some people need detox foot baths, some people need cupping, some people need other modalities to get their body working optimal.

Brooke Scheller: Yeah, and I think it's really important that you brought up that, "Everybody is a little bit different, even with the same things." Because now in the day and age that we're in, everybody wants to go on the internet and say, "You know, I've been diagnosed with this," Or, "These are the symptoms I'm experiencing." Go on WebMD and it's going to give you a diagnoses, but there are so many people out there that are saying, "Try oregano oil." Or, "Try this for your gastrointestinal system." And the fact is that everybody is so different, people are going to react so differently to these types of things.

So, while someone might have great success with it, it might either cause an adverse reaction for you or it could do nothing. So, then maybe you're wasting your money, or you really don't have clarity around what's going on.

Nicole Rivera: And you become frustrated. Because then you're like, "Okay, well this didn't work for me. Now I need this surgery or I need the medication." Since we started to incorporate the Autonomic Response Testing, Brooke and I laughed, we say, "Our jobs are so much easier." Because we don't have people calling saying, "I'm detoxing, I'm not feeling well." Or, "I'm having diarrhea." They're not having these negative responses, which most people equate to being normal when they're quote on quote, detoxing.

But, at the end of the day, a lot of it is because you're not doing what your body actually needs. I think that being as specific as possible is really, really important because you're going to get better faster, and you're not necessarily going to feel badly as you go through the process.

Brooke Scheller: We always say, "Test, don't guess."

So, if you're listening and you're resonating with any of this, we would love to offer you a free fifteen minute strategy call. You could head over to IntegrativeWellnessGroup.com and schedule that right on our homepage. And please feel free to write us a rating and review on iTunes. Thank you so much.