diagnosis of multiple sclerosis sends fear racing through the veins of those dispensed with such news. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are approximately 400,000 individuals in the US affected by MS. Worldwide, approximately 2.1 million cases exist. Misdiagnosis is apparently quite common, however.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition of marked erosion of the protective coating around nerves, and/or degenerative lesions on the brain. As with any condition such as this, we need to ask “why”.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that has many scientists in a quandary. There are diverse theories and suspected causes, however, definitive etiologies are elusive. Some of the popular “scientific” notions include genetic, environmental and infectious factors. It ranges from hypothesizing a viral or bacterial invasion (of which they only have “suspects”) during childhood, only to reappear as an adult; to a deranged immune system attacking itself. The likelihood is that it is a combination of factors that coalesce against the once seemingly healthy individual. The current suspect microbes include the herpes virus, measles, mumps and rubella, but none of these have been substantiated.
Another hypothesis is inflammation, which seems to be the hallmark of the disease. There are many causes of inflammation such as immune aberration, dietary factors, the outcome of attacking a microbe, and others. But does the disease cause the inflammation, or is the inflammation a precursor to the disease? That question still needs answers.
There are many suspected environmental factors of non-infectious origin that are proposed as risk factors for MS. Toxins take center stage. There are several occupational exposures to certain toxins, especially solvents, being investigated as triggers. Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic seem to be the worst. As such, vaccinations have been investigated as well, since they commonly contain some of the above heavy metals. As stated in Current Medicinal Chemistry: “Experimental research, however, clearly shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications and thus may have profound and widespread adverse health consequences. In our opinion, the possibility that vaccine benefits may have been overrated and the risk of potential adverse effects underestimated, has not been rigorously evaluated in the medical and scientific community.”
Neurology (Oct. 2008), a popular medical journal,reports on a study finding the Hepatitis B vaccine may increase the risk of central nervous system inflammatory demyelination (loss of normal protective coating around the nerves – the main diagnostic criteria for MS) by 50% in children receiving the vaccine.
Of course, vaccinations are not the only cause of heavy metal exposure. Pesticides, herbicides, chemical spills, mercury amalgam (“silver fillings” in your mouth), lead-based paint, smoking, eating foods contaminated with metals, living near a landfill, working in a job that requires handling metals or manufacturing facilities that have some exposures if proper precautions are not taken.
There are also some dietary factors that have been investigated for their role in contributing to MS either by excess or by deficiency in the diet. Vitamin D seems to be a factor, especially since it appears that the farther the regions are from the equator, the greater the incidence of MS. Vitamin D is needed by more than 30 different tissues in the body – including the brain and immune system.
Other dietary factors include sufficient Essential Fatty Acids. A shortage or an imbalance of Omega-3 fats or an excess of Omega-6 fats have been linked to MS and other neurological disorders. A good quality fish oil appears to be quite helpful for MS. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are needed to make myelin – the protective coating over the nerves, as well as nerve cells. Actually, EFA’s are converted to cholesterol, which is what is needed for the brain and myelin. In fact, 20% of myelin is cholesterol. Cholesterol is also needed for communication through the body’s wiring (synapses) from brain to body part, and back to the brain again. If you start interfering with your body’s ability to produce cholesterol, you put the brain, nerves and other tissues at risk.
In two studies cited in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Dec 2000 found that saturated fat, animal fat and cholesterol were found to be protective, not damaging. And high intake of omega-3 and trans fatty acids (margarines, vegetable oils) were associated with increased risk of MS. Trans-fatty acids (“Trans-fats”) have been linked to MS due to its interference with immune function, healthy utilization of essential fatty acids, and due to its pro-inflammatory response.
Celiac Disease (CD) has also been inferred to be a risk factor. The belief is that the immune reaction to gluten that damages the gut lining may also cause problems elsewhere in the body. Dr Alessio Fasano, who carried out the University of Maryland research said that Celiac Disease ‘out of the intestines’ is 15 times more frequent than CD ‘in the intestine’. CD is a known stressor on the immune system.
Severe stress appears to be a risk factor, and so does exogenous hormone intake and consumption of artificial sweeteners. In fact, there are 3 class action lawsuits currently against the manufacturers of aspartame charging the defendants of “engaging in unlawful acts of knowingly and intentionally using the neurotoxic aspartame as a sugar substitute while knowing that exposure to aspartame causes many symptoms and diseases, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, diabetes, Lyme disease, attention deficit disorder, panic disorder and depression.”
The last of the dietary concerns to discuss is B Vitamins. It is important to have food-based B Vitamins (most today are synthetic). The nervous system uses a lot of B Vitamins, especially Vitamin B1 and B2. Stress and sugar consumption rapidly depletes B Vitamins and sugar suppresses immune function as well.
It is important when evaluating the “why” of MS to look not only at risk factors, but what can be done to help. Good fats, vitamins, minerals and protein are essential to encourage healthy development of myelin and nerve cells everywhere in the body, as well as for healthy immune function. The definition of degeneration (MS is a degenerative disease) is when you are breaking down faster than you are rebuilding. Make sure you are providing the building blocks needed for healthy tissue so you don’t erode faster than you rebuild.
©2012 Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.