Welcome back to the Healing Pain Podcast with Mathew Embry
Thanks for joining us. My guest is Mathew Embry. Mathew has a great story of overcoming adversity and a chronic condition. Mathew was diagnosed with a debilitating form of progressive MS where he was offered no cure and few if any solutions. He and his father, who is a Ph.D. trained researcher, set out on a quest to find answers. They dove into the peer-reviewed medical literature and discovered natural ways to halt and reverse the progression of multiple sclerosis.
His entire journey can be found in the Amazon documentary called Living Proof, where Mathew shares his story of halting the progression of MS. The documentary also explores the relationship between MS charities and the pharmaceutical industry, their lack of transparency with regard to medical funding, as well as their power, influence, and sometimes their ability to avoid opportunities to raise awareness around lifestyle-based treatments such as nutrition and exercise therapy for the treatment of MS. We discussed this story and how potential conflicts of interest affect those in need of chronic disease treatment. Without further ado, let’s begin and meet Mathew Embry.
Watch the episode here:
Hope: Ways To Overcome Multiple Sclerosis With Mathew Embry
Mathew, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here.
Joe, thank you for doing this. I appreciate it.
I was checking out Amazon Prime and flipping through movies and things to look at. I came across your documentary, Living Proof, and your story struck me. I was looking forward to having you on the show and talk to you. I know that this message is going to resonate with a lot of the followers of the show. For you, it’s been a number of decades now, but can you take us back to when you were first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? How old were you? What did that look like for you?
Thank you for having me on this show. It’s great to have this exposure. We’re going back many years ago when I had my first exacerbation and I was nineteen years old. Most nineteen-year-olds do not know what to say. I was physically fit and active as best I could be. I came home from mountain biking. I was kicking a basketball and suddenly, I was having trouble dribbling the ball the way that I was used to. Within about twenty minutes-ish, I have a feeling of numbness.
It’s hard to explain because it’s almost like a hypersensitivity on one level too. It spread right up into my chest and that’s what it started. After that, spasms followed. You think you pinched a nerve. She said she’s been biking. You’re off to the neurologist after seeing your general practitioner and then had the MRI. This part of my journey began.
Many years ago, things were different. There’s more information now about MS than there obviously was. I’m wondering, what were the treatments that were offered to you back then? How long were you engaged with that traditional allopathic model of treatment?
I did the first dose of the steroids right away. Prednisone was the first thing. To the prednisone’s credit, it did subside some of the symptoms like the leg spasms in particular. I remember it went away, which is good because that was the spot bothering to me. Back then, MS drugs were getting into the market in a big way. There were very experimental. I believe that I was given an option to go as part of a trial, a test pilot with the beta interferon.
Forgive me if that was not the drug, but I remember that was the case. There wasn’t much. They used to refer to MS and I’ve been told as diagnosis of acidosis. Once you had it, it was goodbye. They give you some grim outlooks. They might end up into three categories for me, at least. This is where it’s going to go. That didn’t work for my family and me. That’s when we decided to get active.
You mentioned your family. I know your dad’s a big part of your story and the movie, Living Proof, which everyone can check out. It’s on Amazon Prime. I recommend everyone check it out and watch it, especially if you’re someone living with MS or even if you’re someone living with chronic pain. It’s a great documentary. Your dad has a PhD. He understands research and started digging into PubMed and pulling things out about various nutraceuticals, diet, lifestyle and exercise. Was he the force that took your journey in that direction? Was it both of you together that said, “We have to find an alternative solution to then just medication?”
It’s very interesting. When I look at all of the serendipity and the things that have to happen for the journey to go in that direction, it is incredible. One thing that I shared in very few interviews is that a month prior to my first exacerbation, I had a very deep sense to change in my diet. This is true. I didn’t do it, but that happened. I believe it was my mom who, in the car ride, somewhere in there, said, “This has something to do with diet.” She was a nurse. She instinctively had controlled our diets. Previously when we were young, we had a lot of food allergies.
PubMed wasn’t around at the time. He had to go to the medical library. That’s where it started. He went after it. Another serendipitous thing happened where someone from my high school shared a book that was about diet. I think it was Dr. Swank’s research in the ‘40s and ‘50s. That set the course. Within six weeks, not even, I was on a very specific diet regime.
Has that diet changed since you first started or have you modified and tweaked them? I know you’re mostly on a paleo-style diet. Is that right?
Yeah. It has changed. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten harder. I thought it would go the other way, but it didn’t. It’s gotten more restrictive for me, which has its challenges. It is dairy-free, gluten-free, moderation in eggs, no legumes, low fat, low sugar, and then high in vegetables, protein, things like that. When I try to share with people that I’m not alone in this is that there’s going to be specific foods that an individual that can cause them problems.
We talked about people getting allergy tests and things like that. What I try to share with people is studying your body like a lab, being very present in how you feel every day. When you wake up, you feel fatigued or whatever the case, “What did I eat yesterday? What was the roadmap? Is there something that stuck its way into my diet,” which is getting more challenging these days? I don’t know why. Companies are adding additives and things like this to gluten-free dairy-free products. If you study the additive, you’re like, “Why is this even in there?” You’re on your butt for a day because it’s wiped out. I agree. It’s become more restrictive.
I think it’s good that you’re helping people raise awareness around their diet and how it affects their body as well as their brain. Those two things are intimately connected. They’re interconnected, especially with MS. You’re saying, “Maybe gluten-free doesn’t work for you, but give it a try and see if you notice a difference, basically.” Your body is your chemistry lab.
If you go to Direct-MS.org, the science is all there in regards to why are we eliminating them? What we do for MS, in particular, it’s a science-based approach with gluten and dairy being taken out. Here’s why it could affect your multiple sclerosis. It’s a challenge because the best-fed diet is a little bit of buckshot. It’s like, “Take this out. Once you’ve got rid of those pro-inflammatory foods, the journey can continue.”
You mentioned in the beginning, you were taking some medications for your symptoms. You discovered diet and starts to experiment with that. I think most people would say a strict paleo diet. Are you medication-free at this point? I think people would want to know that. Have you been medication-free since the dietary changes?
I’ve been MS medication-free for many years. One thing that I do struggle with, especially I think in the US in particular, can be even more dramatic. There is a major anti-pharma ideology that goes on. I’m not that extreme on that side. If there was a drug that was highly effective with no side effects and cost-effective, I would take it. I take antibiotics when I need to. I take Advil very rarely, but when I have to. I’m not too extreme that way, but with the MS drugs, I haven’t touched any of them and I don’t intend to. I’ve yet to see one that interests me.
Using obviously pharmaceuticals appropriately can be part of someone’s plan. I don’t know if he’s a physician or a researcher in Living Proof that he made a point to say that the MS drugs that are on the market have no long-term studies to them. I think it’s such an important point because there are lots of medications that seem to work in the short-term. Some of them are based on the placebo effect. I think raising awareness around that point is important for people to recognize because then they start to see, “Medication is not good or bad. It could be a part of my program, and realize that I should be aware if I’m taking this on a long-term basis, that there aren’t necessarily good studies to show their efficacy or potential harm.” A lot of medications don’t have long-term studies regarding the harm of the medication.
That’s what the point we were trying to make with a lot of the film is saying, “What’s comparable for the person who’s on the drug and not on the drug over 30 years.” That was where Dr. Ebers weighed in. There were no long-term effects. Personally, for me, it was encouraging to hear that from an old personal perspective. Here’s arguably the top MS researcher in the world, and he’s saying, “If you don’t take it, it’s okay too.” I said, “Why would I do this?”
It’s true. I thought the same thing. When I was listening to him, if we can reframe what he’s saying, this drug may have a place short-term, maybe for a couple of weeks or a couple of months and then you probably need to wean off or come off that drug and lean into the lifestyle factors that you talk about in Living Proof and on your website. Everyone knows the website is MSHope.com. Everyone can check that out. When did that website come into play? It’s a great resource if anyone’s interested in learning more about Mathew’s approach and all the different lifestyle approaches on the website.
We created that in 2015 or 2014. I can’t recall. That’s when we launched it. The genesis of it was to be able to reach people. I’m a filmmaker. That’s my job. I knew how to communicate with people and try to reach the masses. That was the goal. My parents had Direct-MS.org and that was good. My perspective was a little complicated and very in-depth, which is not a bad thing, but for the average person, sometimes that can be a balance for me too. I’m not saying that I don’t find that challenging either.
I wanted to make one that was user-friendly. People who were newly diagnosed could go. I know it’s called MS Hope, but I would like people when they log in, they see me and go, “This guy after many years and then the hope goes away and then you put it into action.” For me, that’s it. You don’t get to work and get after it. You can hope all you want, but it’s not going to have much effect on you.
What you’re saying is life is a participatory sport. You can learn about things and read them. They seem interesting. There’s that point when you crossed that threshold, and you say, “I’m going to take what I’ve learned now and I’m going to put that into action to see how much I can change in my life.”
From a creative point of view, I wanted to make it so, “If I was diagnosed at nineteen, what would I want to see?” That was how I thought because when I was diagnosed, there was almost nothing. There was one book from Judy Graham that was super inspiring. That was it. I didn’t know anybody or men in particular outside of Richard Pryor. Back then, I had to formulate what I wanted to be. I did a lot of stuff like the vision stuff like that is becoming very popular now. Way back then, I was already doing that creating that person.
What I appreciated about your website is that it’s very clear and easy to understand. A lot of websites that go around health information are very complicated. They use complicated words, too long, don’t have a good direction or actionable steps to take. When I go to your website, I’m like, “Here’s diet, the exercise.” Download some things. It’s very simple like, “Here’s what’s recommended based on the science.” There are things that people can implement into their life. They don’t cost much.
The diet is expensive compared to the average diet and the supplements can be pricey, but we’re not talking about $50,000 a year drugs. It’s a different game. It’s a very hard message to communicate. Once you start taking care of yourself or start looking after yourself, then the universe is going to shift around you and all of a sudden, these financial concerns will shift too. I know that sounds out there, but I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it. You got to take that step into your health being the number one priority for you, then better your world.
I know you talked to a lot of people with MS and have gone around Canada talking to people at conferences. Do you find that it takes time for people’s perspective to shift from one where, “I have a diagnosis? I’m sick. I have to take medication,” to one where, “I have this condition. There are things that I can do to overcome it or to significantly alleviate it.” That perspective shifts from someone being diagnosed with a disease or condition to going back to where they were.
If I could figure out how to get that light switch for people, I try to study it.
There’s a belief system there that is ingrained, especially in American culture. If there’s something wrong with you, you take a drug. That’s ingrained in us from an early age.
I also think too there’s an idea that once you’re diagnosed with something, you’re on a downhill descent and you can’t free yourself from it. That’s the cage in itself. One of the big terms in MS is progressive MS, which means it’s progressive. People ask me what kind of MS I have. I tell them, “I have progressive MS, but I’m progressively getting better.” I flip it. It could be a weaponized term. It’s like, “You’re progressively getting worse. You better take a drug. Is that true?”
This is where Living Proof, my story and Dr. Walls. We have a sequel coming. We’re going to show that it doesn’t have to be the case. I’m doing a marathon. I’m not boasting, but I’m in incredible health. Is that the outcome? Why aren’t I on the front of the MS Society? Not that I’m saying I want to be, but it does seem ridiculous.
I like to reframe, “I’m progressing to be better.”
Every single day. That’s my other part of the message where your journey to optimal health starts right now. You can turn this off and work out, do something good. Every opportunity is a choice to better yourself.
You mentioned some of the MS Societies. There’s an MS Society in every country now. If we can chat for a minute about that, you talk about them in the film a little bit. Have the Canadian MS Society tried to reach out to you, collaborate with you?
No. They had an opportunity to speak on a panel with me in Toronto and they declined. They said there were some factual problems with my movie. I said, “Okay.” I addressed the crowd. I said, “There are some factual problems,” because I think I said in the movie about 15% of their money goes to research. The truth is it’s 13%. They’re right. I inflated the amount that they give to research.
I think it’s a shame that they don’t collaborate with people like yourself that are raising awareness. Ultimately, you’re educating people about what the options are.
It’s going to take time. Obviously, back then, there was a lot of anger. I was a younger man and trying to get out there, but now it’s more like, “How can we shift this? Are they even relevant?” I know that sounds in the online space. Sometimes I compare the likes. I’m like, “If I post this compared to what they post. It was happening. They can buy the billboard, but are they getting the traction?”
It sounds like your messaging has started to change since that initial movie, Living Proof.
In regards to diet, exercise, Vitamin B, prayer, and meditation, not really. I’m definitely going that way, but if there is a message shift, it’s certainly about putting people accountable for their health. I’m definitely stepping back from systems, expecting the MS Society to help or whatever to help. It’s on you. That’s a very hard lesson to learn for most people, me included like I had to learn the hard way. Help is not on the way. It is in little bits but once you’ve built your lifeboat, you got to row it.
I know you talk a lot about personal accountability on your social media a lot.
I do. Normally, I run while it’s raining outside. I live in Canada. I had this hill. It could be horrible. It’s tough. We have all these wildfires. You can’t go outside. I went to the gym for days in a row. I worked out. I’m like, “This is nice and comfortable.” There’s a shower and all that. By day three, even though the skies had cleared, my mind had already convinced me to go back to the gym and not do the hard work. I had to go, “Mathew, you’ve got to get out there and go do the hard work.” For me, it was a lesson. I’m like, “Even in my discipline, my body was pushing me towards comfort within two days.” That’s my life. I’m like, “It’s a daily exercise.” Is that your message as well?
It fits in well with the message of chronic pain. What you’re describing in lots of different ways is what someone with pain lives like on a daily basis. It’s so easy to get lost in, “I hurt. I’m going to sit down. I’m not going to exercise. I’m not going to go to work. I’m going to serve myself with food, alcohol,” or fill in whatever addiction that all of us as humans are susceptible to because our brain is naturally evolved to seek safety and stay away from danger basically.
Between safety and danger, danger doesn’t necessarily have to be the saber-toothed tiger. It could be, “I’m tired. I don’t feel like running outside.” I sense a little bit of mindfulness in there. You recognize that you’re getting caught up in that pattern of comfort. You’re like, “I need to push myself a little bit now and see how that goes.”
I taught myself a lesson. I’m like, “No, you’re going outside.” When I got myself outside, I’m like, “You’re going further than you would normally go.” I don’t want to come across like I’m punishing myself, but I’m sharpening the blade, and that’s not an easy process. I truly believe you don’t have growth without struggle and conflict. People don’t like that. That’s not the message people want to hear, most. Some of us do.
I’m fairly spiritual as well. I think the next film is going to go into that. I do think our material beings and reflections of what’s going on the inside. Once we enter a disease state, there are external variables we’ve got to deal with, but there are also incredible internal variables that we’ve got to go after, which is very hard. I’m not going to pretend that I have mastered this or have any great advice because it’s way harder than I think than other stuff.
On that note, you have a good support system around you, family and friends. You have a spiritual foundation that supports you in all of this.
It all comes down to practice. You wake up in the morning. I think that spiritual discipline is incredibly difficult. I get on my soapbox. I don’t think spirituality practice support is about comfort. I think that you can feel that and that happiness is a byproduct of that. The feelings of euphoria come from the discipline, and that’s great. That’s my journey.
Doing the work can be difficult sometimes, whether it’s spiritual work or physical work.
For me, I’ve chosen to go into that. If I didn’t have good outcomes, then fine. If I was ill and things weren’t good, then I’m crazy, but things are good.
You mentioned a second film. Can you tell us about some of the plans for the next movie?
There are two parts. One, we shot a ton on the first movie that didn’t make it to the screen. We have some great characters and great moments and things that need to be shown to the world. There’s been new developments and other treatments that we want to explore. Things that I’ve done that we haven’t gone public with are important. I can’t give it away, but we’re also involved in another major project right now. In my opinion, that could yield some incredible results for people in the next decade. I don’t want to get to say it right now, but it’s very hopeful. I don’t know if we’re even in the movie, but there are some things that have come to the surface. It’s like a Star Wars trilogy. There are lots of different obstacles that come with new things. We’ve got to keep moving.
The next movie is focused on MS as well.
When you saw the first one, we designed it in a way that was not about MS. MS was the flashpoint. Amazon Prime is on autoimmune disease. We try to create a movie that is for all illnesses. MS is the catalyst.
That’s definitely the message when I saw it. I was like, “This is a good movie,” not just about MS, but for almost every chronic disease that people struggle with now, whether it’s physical or mental. At this point, overlap in my mind. I think it’s a good model for lots of different conditions.
That was the intent, and that’s what I chose scenes around the family and to show you’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and you’re going to struggle with this stuff. Here are some of the human variables you’re going to encounter and how we designed it that way. We tried to show hope. There’s a lot of sadness to Living Proof. No question. If you don’t show hope at the end of like, “Here’s the how-to, I get very frustrated.” I’m like, “Why did I go through this?” There’s got to be some light at the end of the tunnel. In my opinion, when I make movies, I asked the team, I’m like, “If we’re not offering this solution here, then why are we doing this?” I did one on the opioid crisis. I know a little bit about the pain world. Even in that film, we tried to show some hope.
When I watched it, it has a great message. It syncs nicely with MSHope.com. People can watch the movie. They can get motivated in essence and then jump over to the website and download whatever they need to get started. I think it was cool. It was done nice and pretty well.
Thank you. That also was the intent. I would tell people in the edit suites, I’m like, “After they turned the movie off, they’re going to go to their phones and go to the website.” Not that it’s a big infomercial, but in a way, it is. That was the point.
I think people are looking for a strong call to action like that. Instead of some of the call to action and the advice they hear from the allopathic world is, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with this for the rest of your life. That’s completely a different message than what your entire platform is sending.
Where I’m at with my life, too, I am happy to hear you say that. I agree with you that is the problem. It’s like, “You’re sick. Here’s a remedy to treat the symptoms and good luck. We’ll see how this goes.” I don’t think that’s very helpful. I was literally having this conversation with my wife where it’s like, “Where am I off-limits?” That’s how I see my life. At my age, I’m doing this. I never thought I’d be in this greatest shape. I’m like, “No, I’m in better shape than I was in my twenties.”
What does it mean? Maybe my peak is 90 or 200. Why am I going to put a ceiling on what’s possible? That’s another thing I do too. I don’t know if you do this, but I find mentors, people who are ahead of me and I try to study them. I’m like, “How did you get there?” If I see someone at the airport, I watch them, men in particular but I do that with women as well. I look at successful people. I’m no gender bias on that. I tried to look and go, “How did this person do it?”
It’s like when you learn how to ski, you always want to ski with someone who’s a little bit better than you are. You follow them down the slope, and eventually, your skills increase. Your balance and endurance get better.
I think if I had a note of advice for people, that person would appear in your life. It’s this incredible thing that happens to me where when I hit this point in my journey, whether it be career or athletic-wise, some other person appears as better than me. I’m like, “Where have you been? I should know about you,” but I don’t. I try to get after that person, then when I hit what they do, suddenly, a new person comes in. It’s the awareness that the universe is constantly going to give you that next piece.
You also strike me as someone who’s very open to that. What is the next piece? What is the next step? Where is my next lesson to learn? I think there’s a big factor in that. I notice it in your story. I’ve also noticed it in other people who have overcome things like trauma and chronic pain, things that can be quite devastating for people, but they’ve flipped the script on it basically.
I think that’s about being awake. That’s a term right now that’s a bit overused. In my own opinion, I don’t know if people know what they’re talking about sometimes when they say that. Being awake is being present of like, “What is happening in front of you? If you have a message for me, what is that? I got to be thinking about chronic pain. Why does chronic pain come into my life? Am I dealing with that? I’m not going to deal with that. Is that a piece I need to work on?”
It’s that processing that for me is where life gets so exciting because I’m like, “The universe is going to constantly be giving me things. I got to wake up.” I have a journal. Before I go to bed, I’ll literally write in capital letters, “STAY AWAKE.” It’s to remind myself the next day to wake up and be like, “Be alert. Don’t follow your imaginations. A lot of times, follow what the universe is putting in front of you.”
We’re going to stay curious with you. Everyone who reads this is curious about how to solve complex health-related problems. In the interim, Mathew, please let everyone know how they can follow you, stay connected to your work and learn more about you.
Thank you. I try my best to put things on social media on Instagram. I’m not the greatest at it, getting better. MSHope.com is the hub. Through that, you can find Facebook, documentaries, get a free cookbook, all the social media stuff. All the links for the information you need to know come through MSHope.com. I try to keep it consistent on the various platforms. Again, it’s not the greatest. We don’t have a team.
Someone else wrote me, “I’m doing another podcast. Can we get ahold of your PR people?” I’m like, “You’re talking to him.” I put my personal phone number on the website. I’m accessible that way. That’s a fun thing for me because people call looking for MS Hope. They’re shocked. I was like, “This is the real deal.” There are no layers here. It’s a real person.
I get that too with emails. People email me the same thing, like, “Do you treat pain?” I’m like, “I do.” I’ve been doing this for decades and everything here is real. There are no smoking mirrors, basically. Everyone, check out his website, MSHope.com. The movie on Amazon Prime is Living Proof. At the end of every show, I ask you to share this with your friends, family, and colleagues on social media, drop it in a Facebook group or other place where people are talking about MS chronic pain and how to overcome chronic disease. We’ll see you soon.
- Mathew Embry
- Canadian MS Society
- Facebook – MS Hope
- Living Proof on Amazon Prime
About Mathew Embry
MS Hope was launched by Mathew Embry, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and advocate for patients with multiple sclerosis. His recent feature documentary, Living Proof, which is available globally on Amazon Prime, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has sold out theaters in multiple countries. Mathew Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995 and his documentary Living Proof is an autobiographical story demonstrating why more than 25 years after his diagnosis he is symptom-free and living an incredible life.
At MSHope.com, you will find information on the key components of MS Hope, along with useful guidelines and links to the research explaining the science behind the strategies. Mathew invites you to hear more of his story and begin your journey to regain control of your health and future. He truly is Living Proof.
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