Mark Stengler, ND
"I have lost vision in my left eye a few times. It's scary when these MS attacks come on. My friend said you helped her sister with natural medicine and now she seems to be doing fine."
"I have lost vision in my left eye a few times. It's scary when these MS attacks come on. My friend said you helped her sister with natural medicine and now she seems to be doing fine. What do you recommend?" were the words of Karen, a 41-year-old accountant who had been battling multiple sclerosis for four years.
"There are several good things we can do with natural medicine, but let's start by getting more information from you," I replied.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive autoimmune disease of the central nervous system whereby myelin, the protective sheath coverings of nerve cells, degenerates and becomes scarred. This leads to damage of the nerve tissue of the brain, spinal cord and eyes. As a result, nerve function is compromised.
Common symptoms of MS include impaired vision, numbness, dizziness, muscle weakness, tingling sensations, bladder dysfunction, psychological changes and fatigue. This disease occurs most often in young adults with approximately two-thirds of cases between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are affected more frequently than men.
There is no agreed upon single cause for multiple sclerosis. Genetics plays a factor, with almost one-fourth of MS patients having an affected relative. Factors that may trigger the disease or the worsening of symptoms include infectious agents, environmental toxins, diet and food allergies, digestive imbalance, nutritional deficiencies and the effects of stress.
Many holistic doctors report improvements and in some cases incredible turnarounds with comprehensive natural approaches. Conventional therapies such as prednisone, methotrexate and cytoxan carry a relatively high risk of toxicity and poor long-term resolution of multiple sclerosis. Thus, I highly advise that primary treatment of MS be focused on natural treatment with conventional therapies being employed when only absolutely needed for short-term stabilization. This is best done under the guidance of a holistic doctor.
The Immune Connection
Population studies suggest that childhood or early adulthood encounters with an infection (particularly viruses) lead to a dysregulated immune system, whereby antibodies destroy the myelin sheath or direct damage to brain cells. Therefore, immune-balancing therapies can be of benefit to this condition. This is best done through proper nutrition, supplementation and other therapies discussed in this article. Some doctors specialize in therapies that eradicate less well-understood pathogens such as mycoplasma. Supplements containing sterol and sterolins have some literature supporting their use for autoimmune conditions such as MS.
Environmental toxicity has to be one of the most underrated causes of autoimmune conditions. North Americans are subject to numerous toxic substances that are known to damage the immune system. Two of the more commonly found heavy metals are mercury and lead. Both are classified as neurotoxins, and unfortunately, higher than "normal" levels are not uncommon in the general population. It rationally appears that for some individuals with MS, these heavy metals trigger the immune system to damage brain cells and nerve tissue. Other toxins such as solvents and pesticides are also suspect in triggering MS. These toxins can be tested by a naturopathic or holistic medical doctor as done through urinalysis or blood samples. Once identified, the proper chelating treatments to draw out these toxins can be done in a safe and effective manner.
The Role of Diet
Several studies have shown a correlation between high consumption of animal protein (except fish) and dairy intake and MS. These foods contain higher amounts of saturated fatty acids that are known to worsen inflammatory conditions and cell-to-cell communication. Conversely, diets high in cold-water fish and vegetables have been shown to be protective against MS in population studies.
Cold-water fish are particularly rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids that improve cell-to-cell communication and have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Dr Swank, a neurologist known for his work with MS patients, has had great success using a diet reduced in animal protein (50 to 90 grams of protein daily), three fish meals per week, moderate carbohydrates, five grams of cod liver oil and increased fruits and vegetables. He also found that patients who followed this diet before the development of disabling symptoms developed no significant increase in disability from MS during his 35-year study.
The role of food allergies is important when addressing the diet of a person with MS. Doctors that work with food allergies commonly find that wheat and dairy products are common triggers of MS. Food additives and preservatives should be eliminated from the diet as much as possible. Every person is different, so an elimination diet or food testing by a holistic practitioner is advised. Organic foods should be the staple of the diet to avoid pesticide and other toxin exposure. Adequate amounts of purified water are recommended for optimal detoxification and cellular hydration. Alcohol and sugar products should also be avoided.
One of the most important areas to address in persons with MS is digestive function. Inadequate breakdown and digestion of food leads to nutritional deficiencies and the circulation of immune complexes that may trigger MS symptoms. In addition, malabsorption of food sets up the environment for infectious agents such as yeast overgrowth (candida species), which is a known neurotoxin and enemy of the immune system. Supplements that aid in digestive function are highly recommended for those with MS. This includes betaine hydrochloride capsules (or bitter herbs such as gentian root that stimulate stomach acid) and full spectrum microbial-derived enzymes with meals. Also, probiotic supplementation to increase the levels of good bacteria taken between meals is prudent.
There are several nutritional supplements that I advise, including essential fatty acids, particularly high quality omega-3 rich fish oils such as salmon, cod or tuna oil. Also, these taken in combination with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) are excellent for their role in nerve function and anti-inflammatory benefits. Vitamin B12 has been found in some cases to be extremely beneficial to preventing relapse in those with MS. Many doctors find good results with the injectable form, and sublingual tablets or drops may be effective as well.
Studies show that people in northern climates, where there is less sun exposure, have higher rates of MS. Researchers speculate that this may be due to the reduced amounts of vitamin D, as sunshine penetration of the skin is converted into vitamin D. Antioxidant supplements such as C, E, carotenoids and selenium are important to prevent oxidative damage to nerve cells and should be taken as part of a high potency multivitamin or antioxidant formula. Herbs such as ginkgo biloba, turmeric and boswellia are very much indicated for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Stress can negatively impact the immune system and thus anyone with MS should be doing all they can to reduce the effects of stress on the body. Regular exercise, prayer and avoiding environments that are unsupportive should be focused on. Frequent positive mental imagery of one's body and life is recommended.
Multiple sclerosis is a serious condition that has several identifiable possible triggers. Holistic approaches for those with MS make the most sense for long-term therapy. Other therapies not included in this article such as acupuncture also provide many MS patients with substantial relief of symptoms.
Did You Know?
MS: What You Can Do
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease that impairs nerve function. Support the immune system through proper nutrition and supplementation with omega-3 oils, vitamin B12, D, antioxidants C, E, carotenoids and selenium, and others.
Check for environmental toxicity through urinalysis or blood samples. Once identified, draw out toxins with a detoxifying program such as chelation therapy.
Reduce consumption of animal protein (except fish) and dairy. Consume omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish.
Consider food allergies. Go on an elimination diet or have food testing done. Avoid common food allergens.
Aid digestive function by using supplements such as betaine hydrochloride, digestive enzymes and probiotics or bitter herbs such as gentian root.