After being diagnosed with MS in 1995, Matt’s father (Ashton Embry Ph.D), set out on a quest to find the latest information on multiple sclerosis and to develop a diet that could help with the management of Matt’s MS symptoms. The diet focused on removing processed and inflammatory foods, refined sugars and foods such as dairy and gluten that contain proteins found to trigger autoimmune disease flare ups. Paired with a healthy lifestyle, Matt has long credited this diet to the continued management of his disease symptoms.
Matt has made headlines across the country in recent months in an effort to promote his website (mshope.com), a resource that equips MS patients with information on the same strategies that have enabled him to live a drug-free and healthy life.
As someone who has also been successful in managing MS through diet, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Matt about his journey and how things have changed in the 20 years since his diagnosis.
JM: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me Matt. Can you describe what your lifestyle was like prior to being diagnosed with MS? Was the diagnosis your ‘tipping point’ in making you realize you needed to get a handle on your health?
Matt: My tipping point was definitely my MS diagnosis in 1995. Prior to that, I had been an athlete but really had a horrendous diet. I regularly consumed fast food, KD and other junk. I had little to no vitamin D exposure in my adolescent years. I was really a disaster waiting to happen.
JM: What made you decide to first attempt to manage your condition through a healthier lifestyle?
Matt: At the time of my diagnosis 20 years ago, there were very few drug options for treating MS. Right after my diagnosis I was contacted by one of my high school teacher’s who also had MS and was using the Roy Swank Diet. My father who is a research scientist immediately plunged into the medical library at the University of Calgary and based on what he found, concluded diet was likely the best bet for treating MS. From there he formed the MS Best Bet Diet. I started following the diet within 6 weeks of my diagnosis and have not turned back.
JM: When you decided to take the dietary approach did you face much resistance from other people?
Matt: I come from a very strong-minded family. We felt diet had a a lot to do with MS and kind of walked away from the medical establishment so to speak. I went to the MS clinic for a follow up after my diagnosis and was offered a coffee and donut before the meeting. After that, I never went back.
My father didn’t face a lot of resistance, but tried to get all the information he was gathering to the MS Society in order to encourage more research. He has been pushing for over 20 years to get at least one diet-related study or something in regards to diet.
I think we’re at a very interesting tipping point in that the internet has allowed patient advocacy to come through and now our anecdotal stories are starting to come together. Ten years ago we could have never had this conversation, but now so many anecdotes continue to come forward. I’m not here to say this approach is the cure – I’m here to say, this works for me and a lot of other people. Maybe we should do a research project on this.
JM: What was the moment you decided you wanted to help other people and how did you decide to create your website, mshope.com?
Matt: I more or less kept my story and diagnosis in the closet for a long time. I was in the media and I didn’t necessarily know how to talk to my children about my MS. As I started to close in on 40 years old, I began thinking about how my diagnosis was 20 years in. My parents had formed a charity called DIRECT-MS (short for DIet REsearch into the Cause and Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis). I started to look at how they were getting older and not necessarily going to carry on the charity. I decided to make the (MS Hope) website and thought, “I can make this a really user-friendly website that can exist forever. Even in 50 years after I’m dead, someone who’s just been diagnosed can go to mshope.com and there’s an easy road map ready for them.”
I wanted to distil all the information into something where the average person could watch and understand the videos, download the quick PDFs and have all the information they needed. They can either follow the guidelines or not, but it’s there and they have access. This is information you’re not being told by the MS Society of Canada and you’re probably not being told by your neurologist, so here you go. I’m not a doctor, but here you go. This has worked for me and many others if you want to give it a shot.
JM: Has the MS Society had much communication with you or tried to engage with you?
Matt: They actually did reach out to me and we’ve had a meeting where I was able to say I’m not anti-MS Society whatsoever. I’m a huge supporter that they exist, but I do want to advocate for diet research and I also want to ensure impaired blood flow is something we continue to look at.
JM: There has been a lot of news in Canada about Dr. Zamboni’s findings in relation to inadequate blood flow in MS patients. I personally had blockages and had the procedure to open them up in Costa Rica – have you been treated for impaired blood flow?
Matt: Yes I have – in Poland.
JM: Did you notice a difference immediately following your procedure?
Matt: Yes, I did notice a difference – I mean physically I had my symptoms under control at the time of the procedure, but I did have anxiety, depression and problems sleeping. All of those disappeared overnight. I also had issues with brain fog and it disappeared as well.
JM: You’re a really busy guy and this type of lifestyle is a huge commitment – how do you stay on track?
Matt: The last little while has been a bit more challenging with travel, but it’s one of those things where you really need to maintain focus and create a disciplined schedule. The diet is now second nature, but it’s the exercise and other lifestyle stuff that can become a bit more challenging. There’s more ‘how-to’ videos we’re going to post on mshope.com. That’s what my MS Hope tour was about – showing people how to actually use all of this information in their every day life. I think it’s a challenge for everyone, but the alternative is not that fun either.
JM: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone who has been newly diagnosed, what would it be?
Matt: Start the diet immediately. Don’t wait. I traveled across Canada (there was an international stop as well) – out of thousands of people there were only two who said they were going to start right away. Everyone else was like “ok I’m going to start in a month.” Compliance is a major, major problem. I can typically look at someone’s face and know if they’re on the diet. On the tour I met many women who had been on the diet 15, 20 years and were doing great.
JM: Who or what has been your biggest influence on your journey toward restoring and maintaining your health?
Matt: My dad I’d say is my biggest influence. He continues to research, he continues to break new cutting-edge information. I mean he broke the story on impaired blood flow and sent Avis Favaro to Dr. Zamboni. He’s always on the forefront and looking at new technologies and information. I had the opportunity to go to Italy and spend a few days at Dr. Zamboni’s clinic – it was an amazing experience and very cool to be on the ground.
JM: Research continues to emerge of the importance of the micro biome/gut bacteria for overall health. How much have you been following the role it plays in autoimmune disease?
Matt: I’ve been chasing the role of gut bacteria for quite some time. I think it’s very important so I take probiotics daily and I eat a lot of kimchi too. A healthy gut is crucial and new research backing this up is emerging every day.
JM: If you had to pick one item or health product you couldn’t live without, what would that be?
Matt: I’d really say three things – vitamin D which I aim to get at least 10,000 IUs of daily, probiotics and cod liver oil. I will never ignore those three products. I also have a lot of vegetables in my diet.
JM: On Facebook I saw a picture of you with Dr. Wahls, who also has MS and was able to restore her health and leave her wheelchair through the power of nutrition. How much do you follow the work she’s doing?
Matt: Well my father’s charity, Direct MS is actually funding her research project. I think her journey began with Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet, then our Best Bet Diet and from there she refined it. The Wahls Protocol now is very similar, but with way more vegetables, bone meal soups etc. I’ve also started incorporating more of those components into my diet as well.
Dr. Wahls has been a huge inspiration. We flew to Chicago and then drove to Iowa to meet with her – we went through her garden, her house, learned her story. My Facebook is starting to get a bit obnoxious with the celebrities of the MS world, but it’s important. I want the website to have the best content in the world. We’re working on more videos with some of the leading experts in the MS world – I’ve met with doctors at Stanford University about blood flow, Oxford University as well.
JM: I know Dr. Wahls is a big advocate of exercise in the treatment of MS and you are an active guy as well. What does your exercise regimen look like today?
Matt: The first four years after my diagnosis I did nothing but swimming. Then I transitioned into weights, running, basketball squash and pretty much everything now really. Exercise is such a important part of health.
JM: What would you say your biggest challenge on your journey so far?
Matt: You know I talked about this on the MS tour and the biggest challenge is that MS never leaves the back of your mind. I think the faster that you can accept that you might need professional help, the better. I’m not closed off to say that I didn’t get any help throughout my entire journey. I believe there’s a level of low grade anxiety and stress that comes along with this.
I wish I could tell people that it goes away, but it doesn’t. Even now I’ve tweaked my back a bit and you kind of start to freak out. Even when a symptom is clearly not MS, you fall asleep on your arm and wake up in the middle of the night with numbness – you’re going to have that fear in the back of your mind. My advice is you gotta get ahead of it though. You go after the fear, chase it and feel better. Daily affirmations are key, as is counselling when crisis moments come in.
JM: Do you have anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Matt: My final point for anyone with MS is that YOU need to take control of your disease. Diet and exercise are two of the things you can do every single day to control your disease symptoms. Once you empower yourself, then you got this thing beat (in my opinion.)
The world premiere of “Living Proof” at TIFF will be on September 12th, 2017 at 6:45 pm. The film will also screen at the festival on September 14th and 16th. Tickets will be available on September 4th, 2017. Visit tiff.net/tiff/living-proof/ for availability.
You can check out the trailer for the Living Proof documentary HERE.
Thanks so much to Matt for taking the time to provide insight into his personal experience with MS and for his continued efforts to bring this information to light. It’s so exciting know that through his new documentary, even more people will have access to this life changing information.To find out more information about the research Matt’s father is doing with Dr. Wahls, visit http://www.direct-ms.org. For video and PDF handouts on Matt’s strategies, visit mshope.com.