Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition whereby cells from the body’s own immune system damage patches of the myelin sheath (the protective sleeve around nerves). This leaves the nerve beneath exposed and vulnerable while causing an alarming array of symptoms. MS affects twice as many women as men, usually striking those between 20–50 years of age. The severity of symptoms can range from temporary and trivial to causing permanent and serious disability. Onset can be sudden and severe or insidious and mild. There can be times with total remission.
- Muscles – weakness and/or spasms in the muscles of one or more limbs.
- Senses – tingling, pins and needles, burning, numbness, feeling that the body is tightly wrapped.
- Pain – can occur anywhere on the body at random times.
- Vision – blurring, loss of vision, double vision.
- Fatigue is a common symptom regardless of the severity of other symptoms.
- Depression is experienced by around 60 per cent of those affected with MS.
- Advanced symptoms may include loss of bladder and bowel control, cognitive decline and memory loss.
What causes it?
- MS is one of a mysterious group of autoimmune conditions that, as yet, no one has found a definitive cause.
- The closer you live (or spent the first 15 years of life) to the equator, the less your chance of being diagnosed with MS, which explains why more Scots and Scandinavians are affected than Maoris and indigenous Australians.
- Low levels of vitamin D might put you more at risk of MS.
- There is possibly a viral link, where a virus such as Epstein Barr may be the trigger for unlocking the genetic susceptibility for MS.
- Stress is nearly always involved in exacerbating the symptoms of MS.
What to do
- Avoid animal fats. It was first suggested as far back as 1950 that there may be a relationship between the consumption of animal-derived (saturated) fats and MS. Numerous studies since then have shown that patients on a low saturated-fat diet had fewer episodes and less severe symptoms. Restrict foods containing animal and other saturated fats including butter, full-cream milk, cheese, cream, ice-cream, red meat, pork, coconut and palm-oil products. In addition, avoid the highly processed oils that occur in margarine and some cooking oils, keeping to cold-pressed vegetable oils such as olive oil.
- Taken to its ultimate conclusion, avoiding animal fats completely would transform your diet into that of a vegan. Why not try a vegan diet for a month and see how you feel and if your symptoms respond positively? The long-term vegan needs to keep an eye on their B12 and iron levels. Also eat plenty of nuts and seeds to ensure enough of the right kind of fats.
- Avoid sugar, coffee and alcohol. They are all draining on the immune and nervous system.
- Eat fish 3–4 times a week. The omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, found in fish, is anti-inflammatory. Fish containing the most EPA are the fattier fish such as sardines, salmon, mullet, halibut, trout and tuna.
- Cook with ginger and turmeric for their anti-inflammatory properties. They taste good, too.
- Various natural substances have the potential to stop the expression of certain genes. If MS (along with many other conditions) is the expression of a gene you don’t want expressed, then taking these substances in food or supplements may prove helpful. These substances include the micronutrients such as zinc and folic acid, as well as phytochemicals such as EGCG (found in green tea), curcumin (found in turmeric), resveratrol (found in red grapes, peanuts, pistachios, pomegranates and berries) and oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) from grape seed and maritime pine bark.
- Evening primrose oil (EPO) has anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, GLA, the active constituent in EPO, is incorporated in the myelin sheath. Take 10 ml daily.
- Fish oil is also anti-inflammatory and may be taken in combination with or instead of EPO.
- Check your vitamin D levels and if they are on the low side, sunshine is not enough, you need to supplement with this vitamin.
- Find an antioxidant tablet that includes folic acid, zinc as well as one or more of EGCG, resveratrol or OPCs.
- MS episodes are often triggered by stress. Calming herbs for the nervous system include kava, St. John’s wort, passionflower, zizyphus and vervain.
- B complex vitamins can help your nervous system.
- The herbs used for autoimmune conditions, including MS, serve to modulate and regulate immune function, rather than to rev up and stimulate. Herbs include echinacea, rehmannia, bupleurum, cat’s claw and astragalus.
- Stress is the wild card for MS. Learn to calm your nervous system with meditation, belly breathing (see page 00) or yoga. If you are finding life and your situation difficult, do not hesitate to seek the help of a good counsellor.
- Keep cool. MS symptoms are worse for the heat.
At a glance
- Avoid animal fats. There may be a link between saturated fats (particularly animal fats) and MS. Avoid red meat and milk products.
- Avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
- Cook with ginger and turmeric for their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Take 10 ml of evening primrose oil for its anti-inflammatory properties and a B complex each morning.
- If your vitamin D levels are low, top them up with a D supplement.
- Herbs that can help modulate and regulate immune function include echinacea, rehmannia, bupleurum, cat’s claw and astragalus.
- Learn to avoid or deal with stress and learn to calm your nervous system.
- Keep your cool. MS symptoms are worse for the heat.