Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable and often disabling disease. No one is sure of what causes it, so there is no known cure.
We do know, however, that it is a chronic inflammatory disorder that principally affects the central nervous system by interrupting the flow of information inside of the brain and between the body and the brain.
With MS, which usually presents in twenty-to-forty-year-old people, we see significant amounts of scar tissue and damaged myelin sheathes that leave nerves exposed. Exposed nerves are unable to effectively transmit messages within the brain or throughout the nervous system.
Consequently, MS patients report the following symptoms:
- Poor vision, partial blindness, central vision loss
- Cognitive impairment, like memory loss, poor judgment
- Clumsiness, loss of balance
- Numbness and tingling, loss of physical sensation
- Extreme mood swings, depression
- Digestive complications
- Slurred speech
As the disease progresses, these conditions generally worsen, resulting in paralysis, mania, and dementia. Some believe that it may be caused by an autoimmune response that attacks the myelin and is triggered by increased inflammation in the body. While MS is a degenerative condition, patients can experience occasional periods of remission between flare-ups.
Flare-ups occur in people with MS when a trigger provokes an immune response that attacks and scars the myelin. During periods of remission, the body can repair the myelin sheaths. Researchers believe that several factors, including allergies, hormonal imbalances, emotional stress, poor diet, and heredity, may all contribute to the onset of MS. There is also evidence that exposure to certain viruses and vitamin D deficiency during childhood and adolescence may also predispose individuals to MS.
How can we alleviate MS symptoms?
As MS awareness increases and research continues, some studies link nutrient-dense, high-fat diets with success in slowing down the progress and severity of the disorder. Additionally, lifestyle choices, like an emphasis on exercise and stress management, contribute to an MS patient's overall well-being. Several supplements, including Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs, and vitamins are being studied for their potential impact in addressing some of the symptoms of MS. Thanks to continued improvements in technology and a better understanding of the disorder, these natural remedies may prove beneficial for MS sufferers.
The herbs, vitamins, and supplements below work to alleviate some of the symptoms of MS and may assist in prolonging remission. When used in combination with the diet and lifestyle choices discussed later, they help to reduce inflammation and encourage neuropathic activity at the suspected root of the disorder.
Ayurvedic medicine relies on this adaptogen for the relief of chronic pain and fatigue, inflammation, and anxiety. The berries, roots, and extracts are useful in managing stress and calming the system. Researchers are also beginning to investigate promising leads that indicate ashwagandha may help to protect the brain.
This extract is well-known for its ability to enhance memory and improve mental clarity. For those with MS, it may also help to combat inflammation and fatigue, relieve leg pain, reduce overactive nerve responses and dizziness, as well as alleviate eye and vision symptoms. Be mindful that gingko may interfere with other herbs and medications.
Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine both use barberry to counter inflammation and purify the blood. It is also beneficial in fighting infection and supporting most of the major organ systems, especially digestion. It may be helpful to MS patients by strengthening the immune system.
Boswellia is used to treat chronic inflammation and offers improvements in cognitive function. Frankincense resin may help MS patients with long-term memory and information processing efficiency. In animal studies, frankincense helps to repair and regenerate damaged nerves and support the neurological system.
European and Chinese medicine both recommend burdock root to promote circulation and reduce inflammation. Burdock root has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that are being researched as potential cures for cancer and diabetes that may also benefit individuals with MS. Note that burdock can cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals.
This traditional remedy is popular in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. It is often prescribed to promote longevity and relieve swelling, inflammation, fatigue, and symptoms of some eye diseases—all core MS complications. Gotu kola is generally regarded as safe in small doses.
Cannabis extracts can benefit MS patients as a pain reliever. Additionally, some may find the antispastic and anti-inflammatory qualities of the cannabis family to help manage a large number of symptoms. Cannabis is also helpful in slowing neurodegeneration.
Though the medicinal use of this herb is still controversial, many believe that it is highly effective in treating symptoms of MS if adequately monitored. It is one of the most promising MS treatments and by far the most commonly used plant for treating MS. Preliminary research on whether CBD (cannabidiol) oils and other cannabis extractives may offer similar benefits is also underway.
Bilberry leaves and berries are rich in antioxidants. It has been used as a traditional medicine for vision problems and scurvy. For MS patients, it may improve vision, relieve inflammation, and safeguard brain function.
Commonly known as elderberry, this herb is traditionally used to support the immune system. A few studies recommend elderflower to treat chronic inflammatory conditions. Better still, a couple of recent animal studies suggest that elderflower extracts may help to regulate the immune response of the central nervous system.
Ginger root is widely available and commonly used to soothe digestive upset and as an anti-inflammatory. This tasty spice can help to relieve joint and muscle pain and may have neuroprotective potential.
St. John’s Wort
Traditionally, St. John’s wort is recommended for nerve pain and to treat depression and anxiety. Though not well-researched, St. John's wort may help to heal nerves and keep them healthy. Finally, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds may also benefit people with MS.
The curcuminoids found in turmeric are renowned for their anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, turmeric may have neuroprotective benefits for MS patients.
Several other herbs are recommended to reduce inflammation or support recovery from symptoms of MS. Most, like those above, are in the early stages of research, so these remedies may or may not benefit specific cases of MS. Regardless, discuss these options with a healthcare professional to avoid any unwelcome interactions or negative responses.
Vitamin D deficiency, especially during the formative years, may predispose individuals to MS. Vitamin D deficiency can impair immune function though its relationship to the onset of MS is not well understood. Growing up in colder, darker regions where access to sunlight is inhibited may be a risk factor for MS. The best way to supplement Vitamin D is with brief (about fifteen minutes) daily sun exposure.
Thiamin offers essential support for proper brain, nerve, muscle, and cardiac function. Thiamine deficiency can be linked with several neurodegenerative conditions, including MS. To supplement, incorporate nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet.
Pyridoxine is vital for healthy brain development and works to keep the nervous and immune systems healthy. Pyridoxine deficiency often can result in depression, confusion, and abnormal brain function in people with existing autoimmune disorders. Add starchy vegetables to your diet or supplement with a multivitamin.
Cobalamin is a common deficiency identified in people with MS. Vegans, the elderly, and individuals who have undergone weight-loss surgery are often the most at risk. Symptoms of B-12 deficiency include weakness, numbness, and tingling in the extremities; problems with balance and memory; ands nerve damage. Take a B-12 supplement to ensure proper nerve cell and brain function.
Calcium enhances the body’s absorption of Vitamin D, which is essential for treating and possibly preventing MS.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant found in algae and yeast that works to support the brain and the nervous system.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Supporting a healthy gut biome is imperative for people with MS to minimize chronic inflammation that may be caused by a leaky gut. Cultured foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha provide beneficial bacteria. Prebiotic fiber helps to keep your digestion moving along.
Perhaps one of the most critical considerations in attempting to treat MS lies in the diet. MS is typically more prevalent in Western, high-income countries, leading some to believe that high-calorie processed foods may trigger MS. Studies show that consuming high-quality whole foods leads to lower levels of disability and reduces depression for those with MS.
The goal is to seek out nutrient-dense whole foods that incorporate healthy fats.
- Choose colorful fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant properties. In particular, opt for cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and kale, which are high in sulforaphane. They help to reduce inflammation, demyelination, and autoimmune responses.
- Use lots of high quality, healing fats. Coconut oil is full of medium-chain fatty acids that the body uses to support the brain and nervous system. Omega-3s that are found in chia seeds,Brussels sprouts or walnuts, reduce inflammation and support healthy brain and nerve function.
Avoid foods that commonly provoke an immune response, like dairy, as well as foods that can cause chronic inflammation. Sugar and refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, seed and vegetable oils, and alcohol can all trigger the production of inflammatory compounds in the body and exacerbate MS symptoms.
Effectively managing MS also includes regular exercise, active stress management, and emotional regulation. Physical activity helps to minimize chronic fatigue, manage stress, and slow or prevent progressive disability. Gentle exercise, like swimming, walking, dancing, biking, or yoga, can all boost mood and decrease anxiety.
Deep breathing and meditation exercises can also help to regulate emotional and physical stress. This practice is essential for reducing flare-ups and extending remission. Lack of sleep; overexertion; dehydration; and exposure to viruses, bacteria, or allergens that provoke an immune response should also be avoided to prevent an MS flare.
Managing the symptoms of MS is a formidable task. As the understanding of MS increases with research and technology, we are better equipped to provide alternatives that offer relief to people with MS. The optimal solution is a holistic one that includes diet, lifestyle, and supplemental support.
Traditional herbs and extracts revered by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine offer promising leads for reducing inflammation and slowing the degenerative effects of MS on the brain and nerves. Consuming antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods may help to counter the Western diet that some believe triggers the onset of MS. Lots of healthy fats relieve inflammation and help the body heal while supporting nerve and brain functions. Exercise and stress management can reduce flare-ups and promote emotional stability to ensure that remission lasts.
At AFPA, we offer an MS Fitness and Wellness Specialist certification that supplies personal trainers, health coaches, and professionals with the resources and guidance to employ some or all of these strategies in a way that maximizes the benefit to people living with MS. In the absence of a cure, a combination of these approaches shows tremendous promise for helping those with MS lead healthier and happier lives.