Yasmine Probst was just 22, burning the candle at both ends studying for her PhD, when “flashes of light” started to affect her vision.
“I went to an optometrist and then an ophthalmologist to try to work out what was going on, but despite a range of tests no-one could work out what it was.
“Later I started getting tingling in my fingers, then numbness in my feet which started creeping up my legs like compression socks.
“That’s when I knew something was going on in my brain, and my GP referred me for blood tests and eventually an MRI.”
She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or MS, a condition of the central nervous system, which interferes with nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
That was 15 years ago. Since then, the dietitian has completed her PhD and conducts research at both the University of Wollongong and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI).
She’s currently investigating whether a balanced diet could reduce the symptoms of MS, to help others with the same diagnosis.
Because there is no known cure for MS, although there are a number of treatment options available to help manage symptoms and slow progression of the disease.
“I’ve been very lucky,” Dr Probst said. “I’ve had three children, and my disease has not progressed substantially.
“Every so often I get the numbness and tingling back but it’s like a red flag – a sign to pick up my act and commit to healthy eating and regular exercise and to work on my stress levels.
“But it’s a complex disease that varies from person to person, that varies over time and depending on the type of MS. There’s a range of disease-modifying therapies available to help people.
“However we know there’s a link between diet and MS so I’m currently working with researchers across Australia to further investigate that.
“The goal is to help develop some dietary guidelines for people living with MS so they aren’t left in the dark.”
Dr Probst will offer support and advice at the MS Wellness Zone at Wollongong’s Lang Park as part of this Sunday’s MS Sydney to the Gong Ride.
The annual ride is sold out, but people can still take part in the MS Wellness Run which is being run for the first time this year as part of the event.
IHMRI has partnered with MS Australia to help raise funds and awareness for the run, with 5km or 10km options available.
“It’s crucial we raise funds for people living with MS, and the people who care for them,” Dr Probst said. “And to raise awareness that an MS diagnosis is not the end of the world – the disease doesn’t own you, you’re in control of it to some extent.”
All proceeds from the ride and run go to help people living with MS, through information, advisory, education and support programs.
MS affects over 25,600 in Australia and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. Roughly three times as many women have MS as men.
For details on the event visit www.msgongride.org.au