Several years ago I knew a twenty-something woman (I’ll call her Karen) who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After digesting the disturbing news, she sprang into action and did lots of research on the topic, including the use of natural remedies for the disease. Within weeks she had accumulated a great deal of information on MS and located a doctor who was knowledgeable about multiple sclerosis and nutrition.
Of special importance to Karen was the fact that the doctor was willing to work with her on including natural supplements in her treatment program. Although I have since lost track of this woman, I knew her long enough to have her tell me that her natural approach seemed to serve her well.
One major reason Karen chose natural remedies for MS was the lack of effective conventional medications for the disease and the potential for serious side effects associated with them. She also wanted to limit the amount of stress she placed on her body. A natural approach works with the body instead of against it.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune degenerative disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. The cause of MS is unknown, although experts believe a combination of environmental factors trigger the disease in genetically vulnerable individuals. MS is typically diagnosed in people ages 20 to 50 and affects an estimated 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million around the world.
Specifically, the immune system attacks nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves and damages the protective coverings on the nerves (myelin sheaths) and the nerves themselves. Once myelin is damaged, scar tissue (sclerosis) forms and the transport of nerve signals becomes interrupted. The severity of the disease depends on which nerves are affected and how much damage occurs.
That means the symptoms can vary widely. The most common symptoms of the disease are numbness of the arms and legs, fatigue, bladder dysfunction, dizziness, pain, sexual dysfunction, mood swings, problems with balance and coordination, vision difficulties, depression, and spasticity.
Natural Remedies for MS
If you have MS, here are some of the natural approaches you may want to explore and discuss with your healthcare professional.
1. Gluten-free diet. Some research indicates that people with MS are more likely to have a gluten intolerance and to be at greater risk of developing celiac disease. A 2011 study reported an 11.1 percent prevalence of celiac among patients with MS compared with 1 to 2 percent among the general population. You can be tested for celiac or try eliminating gluten from your diet and see if there are any improvements.
2. Low-fat diet. Much research has suggested that following a low-fat diet (7% of calories from fat) may significantly reduce the number of attacks experienced by people with MS. If a low-fat diet is adopted early in the course of the disease, it can greatly slow progression of the disease and allow individuals to maintain a better quality of life for many years to come, according to Dr. Roy Swank, who is currently with the Health Science Center at the University of Oregon and who has extensively researched MS and diet.
3. Luteolin and quercetin. Both of these phytonutrients in the flavonoid family have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and they also have been shown to inhibit mast cells, which are intimately involved in MS. Some supplementation research has already been done in patients with MS and the results have been positive. Discuss the most appropriate dose of these natural supplements with your healthcare provider.
4. Medical marijuana. Use of medical marijuana for relieving MS symptoms has been widely studied. Thus far research has shown some patients have experienced a 50 percent reduction in pain, improvement in spasticity, and better range of motion when using marijuana. The increasing availability of medical marijuana may make this alternative treatment a possibility for more MS patients.
6. N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc). This glucosamine-like supplement (glucosamine is often used for treating arthritis) has been found to have a positive impact on the growth and activity of cells that attack the immune system in individuals who have MS. The most appropriate dose of GlcNAc depends on your age and health status, so you should talk to a health professional about the best amount to take.
7. Vitamin D supplements. Most people do not get enough vitamin D, and patients with MS are no exception. However, in the latter population, taking vitamin D supplements may actually protect against development of the disease or a relapse. In fact, the authors of a recent study reported that their findings “not only further disclose the lower level of vitamin D in MS patients in comparison with healthy controls, but also support the association between vitamin D and disease severity in MS.” Before starting vitamin D supplements, have a blood test to check your levels. Then your healthcare provider can choose the right dose for you. A dose of 3,000 International Units is often suggested.
Photo Credit: James Clear