Hollywood Philanthropist 'Babies' Her MS
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
and Lisa Kudrow at last year's Race to Erase MS.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
For 13 years Hollywood philanthropist Nancy Davis has had multiple sclerosis.
For 11 years she has spearheaded efforts to raise money to find a cure by founding
the Center Without Walls. And while this September Davis is due with twins,
on Friday May 14 her other 'baby' will arrive.
"This is my 11th year co-chairing the Race to Erase MS, and I could
not be more excited," says Davis, daughter of Hollywood mogul Marvin Davis.
"I know we are making tremendous progress in finding better treatments that
will eventually lead to a cure. There's no secret to what we do - we simply
fund the best scientists we can find."
Davis has also found a wellspring of support in the Hollywood community.
Davis and Tommy Hilfiger will co-chair the GlamRock to Erase MS event which
will be co-hosted by Ray Romano, Michael Chiklis, Bonnie Hunt, Molly Sims and
Teri Garr. Funny guys Bill Maher, Tom Arnold and Tony Danza will work the audience
of Hollywood luminaries during a live auction. Cyndi Lauper and David Lee Roth
are scheduled to perform.
Last year's event raised over two million dollars for research supported by
The Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis.
"We fund six centers around the country," Davis states. "When it comes to research
they can never duplicate, but they must constantly communicate. There is so
much research ongoing that it is very exciting we can help."
In fact, so much research is being conducted that Davis says a seventh MS center
will be added to the Center Without Walls. The new center will be announced
at Friday's glamorous event.
But more research requires more money and Davis hopes the public will support
the Race to Erase MS by donating or helping in any way they can. She especially
hopes more people with MS will attend the free MS Roundtable on Saturday morning
"The MS Roundtable is a panel of MS experts that report on the most cutting
edge research news available," Davis says. "There are going to be more and more
alternatives for people with MS and that's important because MS is not one size
fits all. Every person has a different experience with MS. We want people to
ask questions - just a little information can really help a person fine-tune
MS is a chronic, debilitating neurological disease that affects approximately
400,000 Americans and as many as 2.5 million worldwide, according to the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society. Inflammation and demyelination of nerve cells cause
the transmission of neural signals to malfunction, leading to the following
- Difficulty walking
- "Pins and needles" or numbness
- Loss of vision, usually in one eye
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired balance
After more than a decade living with the disease, Davis is no stranger to these
symptoms. Yet she has effectively managed her MS without using the drugs typically
prescribed to combat MS.
Instead Davis relies on homeopathic medicine.
"In the last four or five years I've been doing amazingly well with my MS by
using a more homeopathic approach," Davis states. "The ABC drugs are great for
some people, and I'm glad we have them as options. But I don't take them. Many
doctors argue with me about my decision. And just as many doctors ask me what
it is I'm doing to stay so healthy."
Davis says she never smokes or drinks alcohol and exercises 'almost every day.'
Most importantly she keeps her immune system strong by taking a lot of vitamins,
including vitamin D and C, and Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic immune system
"Oscillococcinum is my major drug of choice and not everyone will agree with
me because some people don't like homeopathic medicine," Davis says. "All I
can say is that it is living proof that it has made my health 100% better."
Another reason Davis is feeling better is because she is pregnant.
"What is amazing is when you're pregnant the symptoms of MS go away," Davis
says. "Unfortunately you still have the nausea and all the things that go with
Researchers are not exactly certain why pregnancy temporarily erases MS - but
studies show clearly that the vast majority of pregnant women feel better and
have fewer MS attacks.
One theory is based on the fact that in a pregnancy, half the genetic information
of the fetus is not from the mother. Since half that immunologic information
is not the mother's, the developing fetus needs some protection or it will be
rejected because the body identifies any foreign proteins as antigens and attacks
"We think that during pregnancy the mother becomes immuno-incompetent to a
degree so the baby is not rejected," explains Dr. Leslie P. Weiner, the Richard
Angus Grant senior professor of neurology at USC's Keck School of Medicine.
"In the first trimester the MS get shut down a little. In the middle trimester
the MS is greatly improved and by the last trimester it is spectacular. The
patient feels like all her symptoms are gone."
The major player in this pregnancy phenomenon may be the cytokine IL-10, a
suppressive cytokine. During pregnancy, all the pro-inflammatory cytokines basically
remain the same or are reduced. But the anti-inflammatory cytokines increase.
Experts think this is may be a function of the placenta.
"We also think this is all related to the hormonal balance in the pregnant
woman," says Weiner, who is also a professor of molecular biology and immunology
and an adviser to the NMSS. "If the estrogen is raised to a certain level, you
are probably going to produce this immuno-suppressive IL-10 phenomenon. The
hormone that seems to be the most important in all this is estriol, which becomes
elevated during pregnancy."
Clinical trials involving estriol are now ongoing at the Center Without Walls.
"Quite clearly we are hoping to duplicate in the non-pregnant patient the conditions
that induce this kind of anti-inflammatory state," Weiner notes. "The study
of pregnancy and MS is a very big field right now, and we are hopeful about
the ongoing research."
Davis is enjoying her ongoing pregnancy as well as her extra-fortified health.
Most of all she is simply "thrilled" at the promise of becoming a mom.
"It's important for people with MS to know that the dream of having a child
need not be taken away from you," Davis says. "It's not a genetic thing that
you're going to give your child - there is a chance but it is a very slim chance
- and being a mom is not something you have to give up."
Tickets for Friday night's GlamRock to Erase MS are still available.
• Nancy Davis Foundation/Race
to Erase MS
• National MS Society
is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns,
connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles
can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers
and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable,
in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed
to make informed healthcare choices.
Created: 5/12/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.