Diagnosed with MS, mountain guide Andy McKenna ditched the pills for more riding

In 2007 Andy McKenna staggered into his local doctor’s surgery hardly able to walk and unable to speak.

Unusual, to say the least, for a fit guy who’s dedicated his life to the outdoors, bivvying, exploring, riding and guiding with his company Go-Where Scotland.

>>> This Way Up: being a mountain biker with Multiple Sclerosis

After an emergency extraction to hospital, doctors suspected a brain haemorrhage, but after numerous tests the words Multiple Sclerosis began to pop into conversation more and more. When the diagnosis of this incurable disease of the nervous system finally came, it was still a shock.

“It was good and bad having a label for what was going on,” Andy says. “Good because it gave me something to kick against and bad because I had to get my head around the possibility of being confined to a wheelchair in the not too distant future.”

Andy kept riding. He kept exploring Scotland as enthusiastically as ever, and he discovered something new about himself — his will to go on, to push back against the disease, was intrinsically linked to his riding.

“The bike is more than just a reason to go on, or a vehicle for exercise, it’s a reason to keep getting motivated in the morning,” Andy says.

With symptoms progressing from numb hands and tremors through to a temporary loss of the use of his legs, doctors told Andy he needed to start taking the strong MS medication that would manage his symptoms… but not without some fairly sinister side effects.

“That advice just didn’t sit well with me. I researched the majority of drugs and people who are on them and didn’t like what I saw. So I looked for an alternative.”

A full change of lifestyle was the medication he eventually settled on, turning his back on modern pills to instead concentrate on managing stress levels and a much simpler diet of good but basic foods — generally a much more holistic approach to life.

Activity and fitness were also a huge part of this, and that is where mountain biking fitted in neatly. If that all sounds a bit like those cure-cancer-with-meditation-and-herbal-tea claims, it really isn’t — strict diet control and exercise are medically proven to control MS.

“Riding is a barometer of how my symptoms are that day. When trying alternative therapies like cannabidiol, or ABC [Advanced BioStructual Correction] this helps me see what works. If I ride well I know I am doing something right.”

Andy has made a film about his progress, and his own approach to the disease and, more importantly, his approach to life that we could all benefit from. Less pills, more lifestyle changes.