Allen Bowling: What We Know About Lifestyle Factors and MS

JUNE 02, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
neurology, multiple sclerosis, Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Center, CMSC 2016, diet, exercise, physical activityThe term “lifestyle medicine” was first coined in 1999, and it covers daily habits and practices, such as diet and exercise. These modifiable factors are important in nearly every health condition. Allen Bowling, MD, PhD, a practicing multiple sclerosis specialist in Colorado, explained how the factors apply to this condition at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Center (CMSC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

It’s true that multiple sclerosis isn’t considered a typical lifestyle disease, like obesity and high blood pressure. Bowling said, however, that he would call it an atypical lifestyle disease. Evidence continues to emerge pointing to “westernization” – consisting of diet, physical activity, hygienic conditions, and high stress – as playing a role in the central nervous system disease.

“Lifestyle factors can have an effect on MS,” Bowling said during the talk at CMSC 2016. But it’s not a one-way street; multiple sclerosis can impact lifestyle choices as well.

A study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2006 found that only 2.7% of Americans satisfy four crucial lifestyle areas – diet, physical activity, tobacco, and body fat percentage. Now think about the number of people living with multiple sclerosis, who may need to satisfy these areas more than others, and how most of them most likely don’t. It’s been well-established that these lifestyle factors impact health conditions, but it’s still being investigated how they directly influence multiple sclerosis. However, with the emerging evidence saying that they do connect, knowledge is power, right? “That’s not true,” Bowling said. It’s not enough to just know that there is a link, it’s really about learning how to address lifestyle issues and how to improve them.

Bowling, who interacted with his first patient with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, explained that using multiple sclerosis as a lifestyle motivator is frequently a missed opportunity. Clinicians can optimize the patient’s suffering to encourage lifestyle changes.

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