Published and interviewed by Mariah Wilson
Interviewed July 19th, 2022
Featuring Ritu Kaur
Since her diagnosis in 2012, Ritu has gone on to create a global community for MS patients and those that support them. With a following of over 20k on social media, Ritu is creating a hub for education, awareness and acceptance of MS amongst the patient’s families, friends, colleagues and society.
Jump into this health journey:
- Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?
- What were your initial MS symptoms?
- How did your MS get diagnosed?
- What is multiple sclerosis?
- What is the average age of MS diagnosis?
- What are common symptoms of MS?
- What made you start advocating for multiple sclerosis awareness?
- What have you learned from Dr. Terry Wahls?
- How did swimming help you recover from your MS relapse?
- What foods do you consume and avoid with MS?
- What’s something that you learned from Dr. Darin Ingels?
- How do you incorporate movement every day?
- What’s something you learned from Dr. Benjamin Benulis?
- Do you take any medications for MS?
- What additional tips do you have to reduce MS symptoms?
- How can other MS warriors connect with you and the multiple sclerosis awareness community?
Mariah: Thank you for joining us Ritu. Before we begin today’s interview where we talk about your health journey with multiple sclerosis
Ritu: Hi Mariah, thank you so much for inviting me here. My name is Ritu Kaur, and I’m from India. I am 37 years old I’ve been living with multiple sclerosis for around 10 years.
Mariah: Thank you for sharing that. I’d like to start our conversation at the beginning. Can we dive into your MS journey, starting with the first symptoms you noticed, and then how you actually got diagnosed?
Ritu: My first symptoms started in November of 2012. When the right side of my back, neck, and head felt very stretched and painful. Even if a strand of hair would touch my skin I would scream out in pain. I was quite scared. Eventually, it went down my right arm, which became fully numb, including my fingers. I also lost my balance and I could not even bring my hand to my mouth. I remember my mum would have to hand feed me with a spoon. That’s how it started and I was very helpless.
Mariah: I know the last time that we spoke, you had said that your sister, who’s in the USA, played a big part in helping to come up with the MS diagnosis.
Ritu: MS is not very well known in India. When I went to the doctors initially they did not even know how to check me properly (in terms of physical exams and diagnostic testing). Some of the doctors even said, “maybe it’s psychological”.
That was very depressing for me. I remember I called my sister abroad, she’s a neuro specialized physiotherapist, and at that time she was in New York. I told her that I needed her help. She said, “OK, what are your symptoms?” and I told her what all was happening, and then she said, “I think you have MS”.
So she called her professor in India where she studied physiotherapy and the professor gave a reference to a doctor in Mumbai. My sister also insisted that I get a spinal tap test done.
So step by step I had an MRI and then I went to another doctor for the spinal tap and he said “yes, you have multiple sclerosis”. Then treatment for MS started on Christmas Day of 2012 and I was hospitalized. I was 27 years old at that time with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
Mariah: Thank you for sharing all of that – it sounded like quite the whirlwind to get a multiple sclerosis diagnosis! For people who don’t know what MS is, are you able to give us a brief definition, or at least what your understanding of it is?
Ritu: Absolutely, I will give a very easy explanation.
(Ritu holds up a phone charger)
What happens if this cord gets cracked? The wire inside also gets cracked. And then if you plug it in, the signal and the current will not pass to your phone and it won’t get charged. This is also what happens in multiple sclerosis. When we look at the cord of the phone, it is like looking at a nerve covered in myelin sheath.
In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath gets “cracked” like the phone cord, and any signal which is passing from the brain to the rest of your body parts gets disrupted and there is a progressive degeneration of the myelin sheath. There are medications that help to slow the progression but it depends from person to person how the medicines respond.
Ritu: Common symptoms of MS would be: numbness, vision loss, a lot of fatigue, and the pins and needles sensation. There are many other symptoms of MS, but mostly in the initial stages people see these 3-4 symptoms, which are very common.
Ritu: When I was diagnosed there were a lot of questions and confusion in my mind and the multiple sclerosis treatment in India is really expensive. And I thought, “what about the people who can’t afford these kinds of medicines?” We needed more resources for multiple sclerosis.
Also, my brother is very active on social media and he gave me the idea to start a page for multiple sclerosis awareness. So we said, “OK, we have to connect with more people to know what MS is”. So I started it first on Facebook and then of course when Instagram got famous in India I moved the platform there as well.
It’s a community-building platform and so I started making a community for people with MS so they can share their experiences. I’ve had zoom sessions with the doctors in the US, I’ve led yoga sessions, and I have been hosting interviews with experts and doctors that I post on YouTube. I also started a podcast with it which is called “10 minutes for MS podcast”.
Mariah: For people who haven’t listened to your podcast, can we highlight what you’ve learned from these multiple sclerosis experts? I know you mentioned that you have interviewed Dr. Terry Wahls, Dr. Darin Ingels, Dr. Benjamin Benulis, and many others!
Ritu: Dr. Terry Wahls taught me that our diet plays a very important role in our life. We should know what we are eating and why we are eating. When I spoke with Dr. Wahls, she said that not every diet is for everyone, so we should get to know our bodies and find out what foods we can tolerate and what makes us feel good.
Also, Dr. Wahls says swimming is very important. So I do two hours of exercise, including swimming, every day which is really important to me. When I had my last MS relapse, the first thing I did was physiotherapy and it did not help me much, but then swimming did wonders for me, I know why Dr. Wahls says swimming is important.
Mariah: It sounds like you mostly went keto to help balance your blood sugar levels…
Ritu: The water has a cool temperature, and heat is not good for MS. Therefore if you are in the water your body will have a more balanced temperature or at least a cooler temperature. Also, the pressure of water allows you to work out without even realizing it. So I started swimming every day and it stopped my limping and I was able to start walking properly again. My recovery was much faster than just with the physiotherapy.
Ritu: I love raw vegetables: cucumbers, salads, and fruits are my top priority, but I actually feel that mangos generate a lot of heat in my body, so I avoid them. Kidney beans also make me feel fatigued, so I try to avoid them, or if I do make them, I just make sure that they’re boiled really well so that they are not as difficult to digest. I’m a vegetarian and I avoid dairy. I also avoid fried food and sweets.
There are also some doctors like Dr. Tom O’Bryan who is a very big advocate of gut health and he advises not to have rice, and he’s against gluten-containing foods. Since I’m from India, gluten is very difficult for me to avoid, but I slowly removed gluten. Personally, I don’t feel really bad from gluten, but that’s something that the health experts are saying, but I’m still trying to figure that out.
Ritu: Dr. Darin Ingels is one of my favorite doctors. He has always been very supportive. In fact, my first podcast recording was with him. He’s a chiropractor and has been treating himself without MS medications.
One of the things I learned from him was the importance of taking supplements. So for example, he takes vitamin C, B12, biotin, magnesium, and other important vitamins and minerals. He is someone who takes around 30 to 35 supplements on a daily basis – and this is something that works for him.
I also take vitamin D, and this is really important. A sad thing is that in today’s modern world, people are mostly indoors, which increases their risk of vitamin D deficiency. Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is important for lowering the risk of developing MS.
Ritu: Dr. Ingels recommended that if you’re fatigued, you should not lie down in bed, but instead get up and work out for as little as 2-10 minutes, and this will give some people energy.
I have practiced it myself and it really helps me. So I take small dumbells and do some strength training and I feel a lot more energized after that.
Also, if I am feeling very fatigued and I have to go to the office, I take some of the equipment with me. I have a hand gripper, resistance bands, and ankle/wrist weights. These weights are so small and discrete that most people don’t even realize I am working out at work.
Ritu: Dr. Benulis talks about the importance of having a raw food diet. He has been eating only raw fruits and vegetables for the last 10-12 years. His diet focuses on lots of fruits. He will eat maybe a dozen of bananas or a dozen mangoes in his morning breakfast. During lunch, he’ll have a big jar of smoothies. Then for dinner, he will have a big salad bowl. So increasing raw foods in my diet is something I learned from him. I found it really makes a difference in my energy levels.
Ritu: Yes, I have been taking AVONEX ever since I was diagnosed, so it’s been 10 years.
Ritu: Sleep is really important. Usually, doctors say that a person should have around 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. However with MS, they should be sleeping a little more…8 to 10 hours of sleep would be excellent.
I also recommend staying away from negativity. Even a little bit of negative stress can do a lot of harm to your body, so both mental stress and physical stress are bad. So keep your health a priority. I would also like to say that MS is a difficult diagnosis, but one way to help overcome is self-love.
If you love yourself and keep yourself as a priority you can overcome anything and you can still achieve your dreams even with MS. So I say acceptance and acknowledgment are very important, but all those things will come only if you have a lot of self-love for yourself.