Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system characterized by bouts of symptoms that may last from two weeks to four months. Experts believe that during a bout the body’s own white blood cells mistakenly attack the myelin, a sheath that insulates nerve fibers. This attack causes inflammation and eventual scarring of the myelin, which, in turn, affects muscle coordination, visual sensation, and other nervous system functions. Attacks generally dissipate, and the individual may go for months or years with only very mild symptoms or no discernible symptoms at all. While the exact cause of these flare-ups is not known, some individuals report having recurrences after taking a hot bath, being out in the sun, or experiencing a stressful situation.
The cause of MS is unknown, but family history of the condition is a definite risk factor. Although more women get the disease than men, men tend to have more debilitating symptoms. Most people who develop the disease have their first attack between the ages of 20 and 40. In most cases, MS does not greatly reduce the victim’s life expectancy, though many sufferers become progressively more debilitated, until they cannot function on their own.
Signs and Symptoms
- Blurred vision, double vision, loss of central vision
- Dizziness or vertigo
- General fatigue
- Brief shooting pain or tingling sensations anywhere in the body
- Numbness, weakness, or paralysis in one or more limbs
- Occasional tremors
- Lack of coordination
- Unsteady gait
- Lack of bladder or bowel control
Conventional Medical Treatment
Early symptoms of multiple sclerosis are similar to those of Lyme disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, so it is important to see your physician for an exact diagnosis. Your doctor takes a detailed medical history and may order an electroencephalogram (a charting of your brain’s electrical activity) to confirm diagnosis. Other diagnostic tests for MS include lumbar puncture (to check the concentration of immune cells in your cerebrospinal fluid), simple visual stimulus exercises, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
While there is currently no standard treatment for MS, there are medications that help manage symptoms. Beta interferon is thought to slow the progression of the disease, and anti-spasmodics and Corticosteroids are helpful for treating myelin inflammation. Physical therapy can help patients cope with lack of motor coordination. Copaxone (copolymer-1), a new drug under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was found in clinical trials to reduce the number of disease attacks in some patients.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Roy Swank, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the Swank Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Beaverton, Oregon, has been studying dietary factors related to MS since the 1950s. His long-term studies show that strict adherence to a low-fat diet, consisting of no more than 20 grams of fat daily, produce the best results. Dark, leafy greens contain vitamin K, which helps prevent nausea and vomiting. Eliminate or rarely consume saturated fats, including those found in red meat and dairy products.
Drink at least 8-ounce glasses of water daily to prevent toxic buildup in the muscles. “Green drinks” (those produced from chlorophyll-rich vegetables) are also beneficial for the chlorophyll they provide.
Nutritionists recommend the following daily supplements:
- DHEA (300 mg, with food)
- flaxseed oil (2 tbsp, with food)
- vitamin B complex (50 mg)-maintains healthy nerves and aids in immune system function, supplemented with vitamin B12 (1000 mcg of a sublingual supplement, taken under the tongue)-prevents nerve damage, and vitamin B6 (100 mg)-promotes red blood cell production
- phosphatidyl serine (300 mg, with food)
- complete antioxidant supplement (as directed on label)
- N-acetyl cisteine (1000 mg, on empty stomach)
- lipoic acid (200 mg, with food)
- selenium (200 mcg, with food; do not exceed 200 mcg selenium daily, taking all supplements into account)
- threonine (2 g, on empty stomach)
- coenzyme (90 mg)-improves circulation and tissue oxygenation
- evening primrose oil (2000 mg)-controls symptoms
- choline (1000 mg) plus inositol (1000 mg)-stimulates the nervous system and protects the myelin sheaths
- vitamin C (1000 mg 5 times daily)-protects the immune system
- vitamin E (600 IU)-protects the nervous system, enhances circulation; take in emulsion form
- calcium (1000 to 2000 mg)-deficiency may increase your risk for developing MS; use chelate form
- magnesium (up to 600 mg daily, in divided doses)-important for myelin structure and stability
Ayurvedic practitioners may recommend the herb ashwagandha for strengthening the body, fighting fatigue, and reducing other symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Ayurvedic products are available at many health food stores and Indian pharmacies.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture can relieve muscle stiffness and promote overall relaxation, balance, and well-being, which may slow the disease’s progression.
Acupressure can reduce stress and improve muscle tone, as well as bring about a state of balance that will enhance other therapies.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Multiple sclerosis is a very complex disease that manifests itself differently in different people. A Chinese medical doctor takes into account the patient’s medical history and presenting symptoms before designing or prescribing an herbal regimen. Herbs can be quite helpful in relieving a host of symptoms, including fatigue, incontinence, tremors, vision problems, and weak or stiff muscles. Patent formulas that may be given to boost the immune system include Panas Ginseng Capsules, Eight Immortal Long Life Pills, Ginseng and Longan, and Major Four Herbs.