Updated: Dec 2
If you have multiple sclerosis, you've likely heard this term. If you're familiar with brain anatomy, you've likely studied this term. And if you're interested in preserving youth for as long as possible, keep reading because demyelination (the breaking down of myelin) pertains to ALL of us.
Myelin is the protective covering -- the insulation -- around our nerves. If our myelin is healthy and strong, the nerve connection is efficient and strong. If our myelin has been damaged or has aged, the nerve connection is weak.
Why is nerve connection important? Well, our nerves are the connection to our entire PNS and CNS systems -- in other words, the connectivity between our brain and our ENTIRE body.
As we age, demyelination occurs. It's part of the natural aging process: things break down over time and don't work as well or as efficiently. This includes the myelin sheath around our nerves. While we can't avoid it entirely, there are many things we can do right now to help prevent demyelination and encourage remyelination (the repairing of myelin). While remyelination occurs more readily when we're young, the process is still possible when we're older. Keep reading to understand how.
For those of us living with MS, the concept of remyelination is a huge development. For many years, neurologists and researchers didn't think remyelination was possible. In someone who has MS, the body's T cells attack the myelin sheath around the nerves. This is why many with MS have lost the ability to walk or use one side of their body. It has nothing to do with the actual muscle, per se -- it has to do with the connectivity to that muscle.
This weekend, I attended a 2-day webinar presented by Dr. Terry Wahls. Dr. Wahls is the leading scholar and researcher on MS and lifestyle. Dr. Wahls was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and by 2002, she was wheelchair-bound and unable to sit up. She was barely able to feed herself.
She tried all the latest drugs and she saw all the best doctors -- nothing was working. Determined to live a better life, she researched voraciously. She stopped relying solely on the drugs and started changing her lifestyle. Today, she is running almost 3 miles, cycling 20 miles, and has full function of her body. She's 67 years old. She also ditched the wheelchair.
Dr. Wahls figured out how to encourage the cells in her body to repair the broken myelin sheath which had been damaged by the T cells. It was a HUGE development in the MS world, and while she was at first seen as a fraud (everyone at that time thought MS was irreversible), gradually, she's become one of the leading experts on autoimmune diseases and reversing some of the severest symptoms of MS.
Some of you may be wondering, "That's great for people who have MS, but how does it apply to me?" You see, my friend, Dr. Wahls's approach to remyelination is the same approach we should all use to avoid the aging of our myelin sheath over time and to encourage remyelination. And you know what's really exciting? Dr. Wahls's lifestyle approach is the SAME approach I've used for myself for the past 10 years and the SAME approach as The Path to Vitality program!
Before discussing how to repair myelin, we should first discuss the kind of environment that increases the aging and breaking down of our myelin. You can probably guess what some of these environmental factors are...
toxins (especially heavy metals)
added sugars, refined oils, processed foods
stress (this is a big one)
lack of sleep
sitting a lot throughout the day (lack of movement)
Stress and lack of sleep are probably the key players in increased aging and demyelination. As a result of our neurons working so hard (especially as a result of stress), they emit by-products in the brain that need to be "cleaned out" on a daily basis. It's only in deep sleep that these "housekeeping" cells can effectively "take out the trash." If we don't clear out the debris, it's going to affect the longevity of that precious myelin sheath.
Now for the good stuff: What can I do to take care of (and repair!) my myelin?
sleep -- deep sleep!
eat a diet high in nutrients and low in processed foods or added sugars
get rid of the toxins in your environment
Stress wears down all of our cells, including the myelin sheath. The less chronic stress we have in our lives, the better, healthier, and younger our bodies will be -- this includes the myelin sheath. Meditation has shown, time and time again, its efficacy in controlling stress. There are many ways to meditate, but a good one to start with is the 4-7-8 sequence. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Do 4-5 rounds. This particular meditation sequence has been shown to calm the nervous system.
Exercise -- or even simply, movement throughout the day -- has soooooo many benefits and remyelination is just one more to add to the list. Exercise enhances the remyelination process by reducing inflammation, producing growth proteins and enzymes that play a role in repair, and calming down the scavenger cells that contribute to wear and tear. The opposite of movement, sitting down all day, increases inflammation and contributes to myelin debris.
This is just the start, friends! If you're interested in learning more about Dr. Wahls and her approach, check out her website and book. And if you're ready to take action today on remyelination and preventing demyelination, check out my Path to Vitality program.
We have the controls -- it's not entirely up to fate (or, genetics). What are you going to do to take control of your one and only life?