Multiple Sclerosis – Slowing Progression and Managing Symptoms Naturally

Improving your diet and adding healthy herbs and supplements will improve overall motor and cognitive functioning, but for those with multiple sclerosis, such lifestyle changes can be especially helpful.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic central nervous system disease with inflammatory and neurodegenerative effects. 

The cause of the disease is not known, but is thought to result from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. 

Most people with MS initially present relapse and remission episodes. During the relapse period, there is inflammation and demyelinating lesions in the optic nerves, brain, and spinal cord that produce symptoms that may include loss of vision, muscle pain and weakness, hearing problems, depression, digestive issues, numbness, tremors, and bowel and bladder disturbances.

The symptoms stem from the breakdown of communication between the brain and the nerves.

In recent years, treatments that combine traditional and alternative medicine have gained popularity with MS patients, especially since the cause of the disease is unknown.  Alternative treatments include lifestyle changes and dietary modifications, and stress management.

Lifestyle and Diet

Environmental risk factors for MS include low vitamin D levels, too much sun exposure, smoking, obesity,  and viral exposures including childhood viral exposure that becomes aggressive again. [1]

Maintaining an immune supporting diet is the key. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential for people with MS since these provide the immune system with key nutrients that help build protective antibodies, proteins and enzymes that keep your immune system functioning at its best. 

The best fruits and vegetables are the ones with high immune supporting nutrients which specifically include: sprouts, berries, spinach, vegetables from the broccoli family, garlic, ginger, fennel, cucumbers, pomegranates and sweet potatoes.

Although medicine supports the treatment of MS with immune suppressing agents, this has been found to actually be non supportive for protection during the disease.

A high-fiber, low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids and limiting alcohol intake as much as possible is very supportive of  immune function and for preventing the symptoms of MS. This diet is not only anti-inflammatory but also neuroprotective and prevents symptoms of MS like fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, and cognitive changes that are both severe and debilitating.

In general, people suffering from MS also have a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections due to their lowered immunity and the medications that they are prescribed. So to reduce this risk and help eliminate bacteria from urine, people with MS should drink sugar free cranberry juice and eat foods that support urinary tract health such as grapefruits, parsley, and papayas.

Exercise, especially endurance sports such as running, walking, cycling or swimming are also very helpful in preventing MS symptoms and disease progression.

These types of endurance sports increase BDNF, a brain cell growth factor that supports healthy brain cells and their function. See my article on this titled: Foods That Increase BDNF for Brain Health & Weight Loss

There are also some herbs and supplements that can help people with MS and include:

1. Ashwagandha – Both berries, roots, and extracts of this Ayurvedic herb are used for chronic pain, fatigue, inflammation, stress relief, and anxiety.

2. Gotu kola – A popular Chinese medicine, Gotu kola helps with symptoms like swelling, inflammation, skin conditions, and fatigue.

3. Ginkgo Biloba Famous for its effectiveness in improving memory and mental clarity, this herb can also help relieve leg pain and overactive nerve responses, help with eye and vision problems, reduce dizziness and vertigo, and reduce inflammation and fatigue. [2]

4. Chinese hemp seed – This traditional Chinese medicine is great for soothing the nervous system. Extracts have been studied for their role in reducing inflammation, spasticity, and neurodegeneration. [3]

5. Ginger – This plant has long been used for medicinal purposes, helping with stomach problems, nausea, joint and muscle pain, and diarrhea. Research also shows its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective potential. [4]

6. Milk thistle – According to one study, milk thistle may modulate the immune system in MS. [5]

7. Turmeric – This popular spice contains curcuminoids, shown to have neuroprotective effects. [6] Research also shows that it can help with the alleviation of MS symptoms. [7]

Other Supplements for MS

There are also some supplements that can be used as natural treatments for MS and include:

  1. Omega 3 fatty acids – which reduce inflammation and promote better nerve functioning. They also fortify the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cell axons and insulates them to increase the rate at which electrical impulses are passed along them helping the nerves function well.

2. Probiotics – Good for restoring or maintaining a healthy gut microbiome that decreases inflammation and helps provide many nutrients to the immune system and the body.

3. Digestive enzymes – can help with digestion and reducing autoimmune reactions to various foods.

4. Alpha Lipoic Acid – supports the brain and nervous system by repairing damaged neurons.

5. Barley Grass – full of supportive nutrients that support the brain and central nervous system health, and the myelin sheath.

Vitamins and Minerals for MS

There are also vitamins and minerals that support immunocompetence and health while preventing MS relapse and support myelin sheath protection. These can be found in my article “Supporting the immune system with diet and supplements”.

You definitely want to make sure you include foods rich in these nutrients in your diet regularly or supplement with them responsibly.

Take Away

These supplements and dietary changes will help slow MS disease progression and ease its symptoms. However, I do recommend that you  consult with your doctor or nutritionist who know your medications and medical history before you include some of them, as well as how you should include these into your treatment regimen.

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

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Dr. Galit Goldfarb

References:

  • [1] Katz Sand I. The Role of Diet in Multiple Sclerosis: Mechanistic Connections and Current Evidence. Curr Nutr Rep. 2018;7(3):150-160. doi:10.1007/s13668-018-0236-z
  • [2] Viviane M Saito, Rafael M Rezende, and Antonio L Teixeira. Cannabinoid Modulation of Neuroinflammatory Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2012 Jun; 10(2): 159–166. Published online 2012 Jun. doi: 10.2174/157015912800604515.
  • [3] Ramaswamy Kannappan, Subash Chandra Gupta, Ji Hye Kim, Simone Reuter, and Bharat Bhushan Aggarwal. Neuroprotection by Spice-Derived Nutraceuticals: You Are What You Eat!. Mol Neurobiol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 Oct 1. Published in final edited form as: Mol Neurobiol. 2011 Oct; 44(2): 142–159. Published online 2011 Mar 1. doi: 10.1007/s12035-011-8168-2.
  • [4] Fereshteh Navabi, Vahid Shaygannejad, Faezeh Abbasirad, Elaheh Vaez, Fahimeh Hosseininasab, Mohammad Kazemi, Omid Mirmosayyeb, Fereshteh Alsahebfosoul, Nafiseh Esmaeil. Immunoregulatory Effects of Silymarin on Proliferation and Activation of Th1 Cells Isolated from Newly Diagnosed and IFN-ß 1b-Treated MS Patients. PubMed 2019 Feb;42(1):54-63. doi: 10.1007/s10753-018-0872-x.
  • [5] Darrick S H L Kim, Jin Y Kim, Yesun Han. Curcuminoids in neurodegenerative diseases. Recent Pat CNS Drug Discov. 2012 Dec;7(3):184-204. doi: 10.2174/157488912803252032.
  • [6] Sina Mojaverrostami, Maryam Nazm Bojnordi, Maryam Ghasemi-Kasman, Mohammad Ali Ebrahimzadeh, and Hatef Ghasemi Hamidabadi. A Review of Herbal Therapy in Multiple Sclerosis. Adv Pharm Bull. 2018 Nov; 8(4): 575–590. Published online 2018 Nov 29. doi: 10.15171/apb.2018.066. 
  • [7] Lin Xie, Xiao-Kang Li, Shiro Takahara. Curcumin has bright prospects for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. PubMed 2011 Mar;11(3):323-30. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2010.08.013. Epub 2010 Sep 8.
  • [8] Saeed F., Nadeem M., Ahmed R., Nadeem M., Arshad M., Ullah A. Studying the impact of nutritional immunology underlying the modulation of immune responses by nutritional compounds—A review. Food Agric. Immunol. 2016;27:205–229. doi: 10.1080/09540105.2015.1079600.
  • [9] Haryanto B., Suksmasari T., Wintergerst E., Maggini S. Multivitamin supplementation supports immune function and ameliorates conditions triggered by reduced air quality. Vitam. Miner. 2015;4:1–15
  • [10] Wintergerst E., Maggini S., Hornig D. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2006;50:85–94. doi: 10.1159/000090495.

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