News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Health: Debate over best system will continue

There is no doubt that I prefer social healthcare. That means I support healthcare funded by countries, such as the UK and Spain, rather than needing to buy private health insurance, as in the US.

Now, that is not to say either healthcare system provides superior medical care. It is purely about the costs.


An American protester calls for the country to have one health plan.

Neither system is entirely free as workers pay something from their salary or wages as contributions toward the cost. But there are other big differences. Social medicine is free at the point of use, with no charges for doctors’ treatment or hospital care. The same cannot be said of private health care, where even GPs charge fees and you need health insurance. In fact, in the US, not having health cover has legal penalties.

Despite that, many people find the cost of insurance to be prohibitive.

I find it strange, and more than a little ironic, that insurance costs got worse after the US passed the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. How can ‘affordable’ equal more expensive? Some monthly premiums escalated from less than $60 a month to more than $300. And others cost a lot more.

Let me be clear, I am not saying the American system is flawed. It is just not for me.

Prescription costs a question of health

One item of contention in the UK is the cost of prescriptions. First, you must recognise that the UK IS made up of four healthcountries. A trip to the pharmacist in England will cost you £8.60 per prescription drug or item.  But prescriptions in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all free.

Since Lisa and I moved to Spain almost two years ago, we have been surprised by the low prescription charges here. Yes, we do pay – but just cents, certainly not excessive.

The standard of care here is excellent but, as anywhere, it can vary from doctor to doctor. We recently chose to change our doctor to another within the same health centre. It was so simple.

Last week, I had my first appointment with our new doctor. He listened to what I had to say, prescribed a couple of medications, and, as I have MS, he referred me to see a neurologist. Stopping at reception on the way out, I left with a confirmed appointment with a neurologist. It will be my first in 12 years.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Practicing Yoga can Help Improve your Health

A Colorado man practices yoga, as part of a holistic approach, to tackle symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Dan Melfi, aged 65, told me that he has been on several medications since his diagnosis in 2009, but that none of them had provided as big a benefit as he has gained from the holistic approach.

yoga“I keep diseases of aging away as much as possible,” he said. “I watch my diet, exercise regularly, and enjoy yoga. I belong to an MS swim class where I can work my whole body without fear of falling.

“Talking of falling, I find that I can use yoga moves to regain my balance and get up again.” I asked if he took a yoga class. No, he said, he does it at home, using DVDs.

That made me think about the benefits of natural therapies and holistic medicine in general and yoga in particular.

What is yoga?

So, what is yoga? According to the Yoga Journal, the word comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to yoke or bind.

Today, most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures. This is designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

In her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, author Lissa Rankin, MD, writes: “The data suggests that your body can heal itself, but it does so much more effectively when the process is facilitated by the right kinds of healers who support the body’s self-healing process.”

These may include doctors and nurses, but may also be therapists, acupuncturists, energy healers, naturopaths, shamans, and other healing practitioners.

Now, shamanism is a subject I know something about but that’s another story, today we’re going to stay on subject.

Yoga: How does it help to heal?

Hearing Dan praise yoga for helping him deal with MS, convinced me to look into how it helps to heal.

Luckily, I found a fascinating website set up by Tera Bucasas, called Yoga for Healing.

On this site, Tera says: “It’s easy to find yoga, it’s not as easy to find yoga specifically for those on a healing journey. So much of the popular yoga out there emphasizes power, intensity and sculpting.

“Yoga for Healing is a holistic practice that addresses the mind, body and the soul. We allow our bodies to build strength gently while working to heal our nervous system and mental space.

“With Yoga for Healing you will: build strength, enhance joint movement, gain flexibility, relax, modify and take things at your pace.”

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Low fat vegetarian diet looks good for MS patients

How eating meat might possibly affect any disease, let alone multiple sclerosis, was the furthest thought from my mind as a child.

My family, as I was growing up, were all meat-eaters and this has continued throughout my journey into adulthood including one long, but ultimately failed, marriage right up to the current day – almost five years into my second attempt.

I enjoy meat and have always laughed off the scare stories about risks to health. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, I was a rural affairs farming journalist in an area renowned for both quality lamb and beef.

Yes, I visited many farms but was able to keep a clear, albeit false, distinction in my mind between animals in the fields and the food on my plate. Lambs could be cuddled but lamb chops were for eating. I carefully avoided visiting the local abattoir, however.

Well, this is now changing, not because of any desire by me to improve my health but because my wife Lisa has started a new anti-animal abuse website called Please – No More! She has uncovered such abuse in terms of the shameful and disgusting methods used in modern factory farming that we have decided to become vegetarians. It won’t happen overnight as we still have meat in our freezer and it won’t help those animals if we just throw it away.

vegiBut once it has gone, it will be gone – and both of us will hopefully benefit from enjoying a meat-free Spanish Mediterranean healthy diet. Right now, Lisa is honing her vegetarian cooking skills. Indeed, tonight we ate a completely homemade vegan lasagna and were both absolutely stunned by the fantastic taste.

Coincidentally, the potential gains to MS patients of a low-fat vegetarian diet have been a topic of discussion for quite some time but without any firm scientific evidence either way.

Now, however a pilot study seems to be saying that such a diet would be beneficial.

A team led by Dr Vijayshree Yadav, at the Oregon Health & Science University, indicates that a very-low saturated fat, plant-based diet, can be a starting point.

The results were published in the study “Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial,” in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

I am not going to go into all the details here but if you are that interested in reading the entire report, just click on the link above.

Although the results showed no effect on MS disease activity, neither in MRI nor clinical tests, improvement was found in quality of life, including overall mood and levels of fatigue, the latter being a debilitating problem among Relapsing RMS patients.

“Dietary intervention participants experienced reduction in weight, body mass index (BMI), LDL (“bad” cholesterol), total cholesterol and insulin levels,” the authors wrote. “These improvements would likely enhance their long-term general health if they remained on the diet.

“If maintained, the improved lipid profile and BMI could yield long-term vascular health benefits.”


new strap


Busy Monday for settlers


Ok, Monday morning was extremely busy as Lisa and I, with the help of Barry, managed to open a joint account with a Spanish bank, register with the local medical centre and make our first appointment to see a doctor, take the first steps towards gaining NIEs for both of us – and do some much needed grocery shopping.

Once we returned to our temporary accommodation, we received the news that our new home is ready to move into, apart from some necessary handgrips. This means that we now need to buy some essential items such as bedding, cooking pans and utensils, crockery, cutlery and so on. Because of this, we probably won’t be moving in until Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday but we’ll see how it goes.

We had chosen to go with Banco Popular and were both amazed that the procedures were so convoluted and slow. It took more than one hour, actually more like 90 minutes, before our account number was finally handed over. I appreciate that all banks need to guard against money laundering but that length of time seemed excessive.

Anyway, our visit to the gestoria this morning established that to obtain NIEs we both have to apply in person to the relevant office in Almeria, more than an hour’s drive away. He agreed to make appointments for us but indicated that it was likely that we would have to wait two weeks.

Just in case you are wondering, the NIE is a tax identification number issued in Spain to anyone who is not Spanish. NIE stands for Número de Identidad de Extranjero, which translates literally as Number of identity of foreigner or, more properly, Foreigners’ Identity Number. Spanish citizens have their own cards Documento Nacional de Identidad. The NIE is the equivalent of the DNI but just for foreign residents. Spanish citizens get a plastic ID card but EU foreign residents don’t. So if someone asks either of us for our DNI card, we just need to give them our NIE number.

While out and about this morning, we stopped off for a coffee at a local café. Prices here continue to amaze me. We had three coffees and two enormous pastries and the total cost was just 4.90€. I cannot think of anywhere in the UK where anyone could buy the same quality and quantity items for the same price – about £3.45.

Changing the subject, like the UK, with its wintry weather including snow and temperatures as low as -6˚C/21˚F according to the internet, our temperatures have also tumbled. Here they have fallen to 15˚C/59˚F.





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It’s official – Cloudy skies are bad for our health

Just had to allow myself a little smile of satisfaction when scientists agreed that Lisa and I were correct in making our decision to move to sunny Spain from cloudy, rainy Britain.

Well, of course, that is not what the actual report said – as no boffin is really going to analyse our decision-making abilities – but what it did say was the main reason behind our forthcoming move to a warmer climate.

The news was revealed in The Guardian, a UK national newspaper, in a report headlined Britain not sunny enough for healthy vitamin D levels, say experts.

According to scientists who jointly advise the UK government, people in Britain suffer from a vitamin D deficiency because of a lack of bright sunshine. They say that British weather prevents much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight, and that natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels.

Their answer to the problem does not urge following us in a mass emigration but does suggest that people generally should increase their vitamin D intake with supplements.

The advice is contained in draft recommendations from the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN). Although I, for one, had never heard of this worthy group before, apparently it is an independent advisory body to the government and their view could lead to new guidance being issued on the subject.

Even more interesting for me is that the committee made its recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis along with a range of other health problems including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Living with MS, I have known for some time of the link between the illness and vitamin D deficiency and had been advised to take daily supplements by my MS Specialist Nurse. The potential health benefit to me of more sunshine, so more vitamin D, was a key factor in our decision to move.

Speaking to another newspaper, the Independent on Sunday, vitamin D specialist Dr Adrian Martineau said the new advice marked a “sea change” in thinking.

He said “Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn’t need to have any dietary or supplementary intake. The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude – you’ll get more UVB in Brighton (south of England) than in John o’Groats (north of Scotland) – and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin.

“SACN was right to say that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That’s a major and important change. It’s a big step forward that this is now officially recognised.”

Need I say more?

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