Approaches and Strategies
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder affecting the Central Nervous System. MS patients have a loss of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells. This demyelination occurs in the white matter of the brain, spinal cord, and in the optic nerves (1). It is this change to the myelin that causes the signs and symptoms such as weakness, numbness, loss of balance, double vision, or urinary urgency or hesitancy. MS is diagnosed only when there are two or more different regions of the central white matter shown to be affected at different times.
The illness may take different forms- usually there is a long interval of months or years after the first episode before symptoms return. This is known as a relapsing-remitting form of the disease. In other patients, there is a steady deterioration, this is a secondary progressive illness. In fewer patients, the symptoms develop steadily and disability develops at an earlier stage. This is a primary progressive form of the illness (1).
Western medicine has various drugs that are designed to slow down the progression of this disease, but there are other interventions an MS patient may take. These complementary options can be used alongside any standard treatment already in use, and are regarded as healthy and safe practices for anyone. Two valuable options in particular are nutrition and acupuncture.
Acupuncture for Multiple Sclerosis
Acupuncture has a long history of treating many health disorders. Acupuncture is most commonly done by inserting thin, sterile needles onto certain acu-points located all along the body, and this is a time honored system to treat many diseases. For neurological illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis however, a different and more effective method can be used-scalp acupuncture. In scalp acupuncture, the needles are placed just under the skin on the head in order to stimulate certain representative areas of the cerebral cortex. This helps allow the patient’s body to gain control over such issues as numbness, pain, spasms, weakness, and balance problems. Scalp acupuncture has been shown in clinics to be the most successful method for treating problems associated with MS (2). Another advantage of scalp acupuncture for disorders of a neurological nature is that the patient will usually know if the treatment is working for them within two or three sessions.
Nutrition and Multiple Sclerosis
Another very important aspect of care for the MS patient is nutrition. There are certain supplements that have been researched and show promise in the treatment of neurological diseases and MS. Most notably these are essential fatty acids and antioxidants. It has been observed that many MS patients have a deficiency of fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and has properties that reduce inflammation. There are some studies that show that individuals who have MS experience less severity and duration of relapses when taking linoleic acid (3). A useful dose of linoleic acid is had by taking one tablespoon of fresh flax oil with a meal, once per day. Other people with MS find that they do better with oils such as borage seed oil or evening primrose oil, which have GLA, another important fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. As with any oil, for best health benefits try to use recently cold pressed oil, and keep it cool and shielded from light.
Other beneficial fatty acids are the omega-3 fats, most notably found in cold water fish. One study in the Journal of Autoimmune Disorders found that omega-3 fatty acids are capable of preventing a disruption in the blood brain barrier, thus keeping inflammatory agents out of the central nervous system(4). Remember that MS is believed to be caused, at least in part, by inflammation in the central nervous system. Another study states that omega-3’s are helpful to prevent neurological disorders (5). For these and many other health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are a great addition to the diet of those controlling MS.
There are other dietary factors a person with MS should consider as well. First is that MS patients seem to have a higher rate of sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat and many grains. A gluten free diet may be helpful, particularly if the patient tests positive for antibodies to gluten. Secondly is that MS patients also tend to have more chronic infections of Candida Albicans, a yeast overgrowth. Dietary modification and treatment for this may be helpful as well.
Chinese Dietary Therapy and Multiple Sclerosis
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is said the nerves are governed by the liver. In TCM, foods which nourish the liver are leafy green vegetables, mung beans, millet, seaweed, wheat grass, chlorella, and organic animal liver. Interestingly, today we know these foods happen to be sources of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme that controls free radicals and reduces inflammation (6). Remember that free radical damage seems to play a role in MS development. So whether you like traditional views of therapeutic foods, or modern research on micronutrients, the good news is they ultimately seem to agree. In any case the foods listed above and all other whole fresh vegetables are helpful for people who happen to have MS.
Also within TCM, the signs and symptoms of paralysis and spasms are typically diagnosed as “wind”. While this may seem like a simplified diagnosis, many controlling and contributing factors are recognized for each diagnosis in Chinese medicine. Methods of controlling “wind” are herbal medicine, diet, and acupuncture. Foods that TCM says reduce” wind” are celery, basil, sage, fennel, ginger, anise, oats, pine nut and coconut (6). Foods that may contribute to “wind” are eggs and crab, and should be limited in cases with spasms or paralysis.
The person with MS has challenges, but hopefully also sees these strategies and tools as ways to help their health. With the right balance of these methods alongside their conventional therapy, they should be more empowered to maintain their health and lifestyle.
Thank you for your interest in this article. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Stephen Dell-Jones, AP, DOM
1) McPhee, Stephen; Papadakis,Maxine; Rabom, Michael; 2012 Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. Fifty First edition. McGraw Hill Medical, New York pg.983-985.
2) Hao, Jason; Hao, Linda Lingzhi; 2008, Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis by Scalp Acupuncture, Acupuncture Today, 2008, 9(4).
3) Royal College of Physicians (UK) 2004, Multiple Sclerosis-National Clinical Guideline for Diagnosis and Management in Primary and Secondary care.
4) Shinto, L.; Marracci,G; Bumgarner,L.; Yadam,V; 2011 The effects of omega 3 fatty acids on matrix metalloproteinase-9 production and cell migration in human immune cells: implications for multiple sclerosis. Journal of Autoimmune Disorders 2011 10(4061).
5) Mazza,M; Pomponi,M; Janiri,L; Bria,P; Mazza,S; Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants in neurological and psychiatric disease. 2007 Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 2007. 31 (1) 12-26.
Pitchford, Paul, 2002, Healing with Whole Foods, Third Edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California pgs.170-174, 328-329.