How diet and supplements impact Multiple Sclerosis

The Cause of M.S.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) occurs when the fatty nerve-protecting substance known as myelin is worn down, thus compromising nerves in the spinal cord and brain. What causes this to occur isn’t known in western medicine, but it’s believed to be, and treated as, an autoimmune disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF), M.S. is far more prevalent in more developed countries, particularly those furthest from the equator. This fact has led to theories that M.S. is caused by factors in “Western Diets” or sun exposure and vitamin D.

Vitamin D

There are several studies that seem to corroborate the theory that Vitamin D deficiency is a causal factor of M.S. and that Vitamin D supplementation can be beneficial to individuals with M.S. There are also studies which show no relationship between Vitamin D and M.S. Perhaps then, the truth lies in the middle of these two schools of thought: Vitamin D supplementation can be helpful for some (but not all) individuals with M.S.
Perhaps there are multiple reasons why people get M.S. and the treatment option for that individual will only be helpful if it matches their cause. For instance, there are many reasons why someone can have a headache, and drinking water will relieve your headache symptoms only if the headache is from dehydration, but not if the headache is from lack of sleep.

One study by the Danish M.S. Center included individuals whose Vitamin D levels were increased by 32.6 nmol/L (95% CI: 24.4–40.8 nmol/L, P < 0.0001) through supplementation had less relapses throughout the year. Another study showed that 3 months of Vitamin D supplementation helped M.S. patients with brain activity as they scored higher on delayed recall tests and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test which tests concentration, memory, language, conceptual thinking, calculations, and orientation.
Note, some studies suggest there is a synergistic impact when Vitamin D is combined with K-2, so if you’re considering supplementing with D-3, discuss adding Vitamin K with your health practitioner.

Dietary Factors

There is a vast collection of journal articles which analyze the connection between M.S. and diet. Again, as with Vitamin D, some studies show a very strong correlation between dietary factors and M.S., while others do not, but there seems to be more information supporting dietary intervention than Vitamin D supplementation. Most of these studies do not separate M.S. patients into categories based on how severe their cases are, so it’s also possible that these interventions are more helpful for people in earlier or later stages of the disease.
The Mayo clinic suggests people with M.S. pay attention to their diet, stating, “Unprocessed or naturally processed foods are preferred to processed foods.”

A 2011 study in the Journal Autoimmune Disease, stated:

“As shown here, calorie restriction, physical exercise, dietary antioxidants from vegetables and fruits, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish, are able to counteract the inflammatory responses associated to M.S. by downregulating nuclear receptors, transcription factors, and enzymes involved in the proimatory processes.” – 2011 Study, Autoimmune Disease Journal

Alcohol

There are several studies which suggest that drinking alcohol can actually be beneficial to individuals with M.S. This is believed to be because of alcohol’s impact on inflammation and the immune system. Unfortunately these studies, and their accompanying headlines in the media, have sent a message that alcohol can be a treatment for M.S.

Alcohol in a bar

According to a 2004 study of 140 patients, showed one in six M.S. patients drink to excess over the course of their lifetime. Those with a history of problem drinking display a higher lifetime prevalence of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, a challenge for people already dealing with the added burden of navigating a difficult and unpredictable disease.

Alcohol, even in completely healthy individuals, exacerbates many of the unpleasant symptoms that people with M.S. deal with (loss of balance/coordination, sleep difficulty, urgent urination, slurred speech, etc.). From that perspective alone, a person with M.S. should should think twice before consuming alcohol. Furthermore, several M.S. medications can potentially damage the liver if combined with alcohol.

For more information about the importance of your liver, click here.

Sources: Emily J Hadgkiss, George A Jelinek, Tracey J Weiland, Naresh G Pereira, Claudia H Marck & Dania M van der Meer (2015) The association of diet with quality of life, disability, and relapse rate in an international sample of people with multiple sclerosis, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:3, 125-136, DOI: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000117 ; Riccio P, Rossano R, Liuzzi GM. May diet and dietary supplements improve the wellness of multiple sclerosis patients? A molecular approach. Autoimmune Dis. 2011;2010:249842. Published 2011 Feb 24. doi:10.4061/2010/249842; https://www.who.int/mental_health/neurology/atlas_multiple_sclerosis_resources_2008/en/ ; 17. Payne A. Nutrition and diet in the clinical management of multiple sclerosis. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2001;14(5):349–357. ; Coo H, Aronson KJ. A systematic review of several potential non-genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis. Neuroepidemiology. 2004;23(1-2):1–12. ; Schwarz S, Leweling H. Multiple sclerosis and nutrition. Multiple Sclerosis. 2005;11(1):24–32. ; Farinotti M, Simi S, Di Pietrantonj C, et al. Dietary interventions for multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007;(1) Article ID CD004192. ; Riccio P, Haas H, Liuzzi GM, Rossano R. New diagnostic and therapeutic options for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In: Falus A, editor. Clinical Applications for Immunomics. New York, NY, USA: Springer Science + Business Media LLC; 2008. pp. 205–226. ; 85. Smolders J, Damoiseaux J, Menheere P, Hupperts R. Vitamin D as an immune modulator in multiple sclerosis, a review. Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2008;194(1-2):7–17. ; Pierrot-Deseilligny C, Souberbielle JC. Is hypovitaminosis D one of the environmental risk factors for multiple sclerosis? Brain. 2010;133(7):1869–1888. ; Ascherio A, Munger KL, Simon KC. Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. The Lancet Neurology. 2010;9(6):599–612. ; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27919484/ ; Darwish H, Haddad R, Osman S, et al. Effect of Vitamin D Replacement on Cognition in Multiple Sclerosis Patients. Sci Rep. 2017;7:45926. Published 2017 Apr 4. doi:10.1038/srep45926

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