Once considered to be strictly an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, we now know that Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder. “Activated” cells of the immune system travel from the body into the central nervous system via the blood-brain barrier, meant to screen out and prevent injurious substances from entering the brain. Once inside, these cells attack the body’s own tissue bringing about symptoms such as inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis), or inflammation of the sensory or motor nerves causing tingling, numbness, weakness or spasms in the muscles. This otherwise normal defensive response of inflammation does not shut down when it conquers the offending substance, but in cases of MS, it continues and causes more damage to delicate nerve fibers. Fortunately, the body can repair the damaged outer covering of the nerve cells, but it’s not always a perfect job, especially after repeated episodes of damage. What causes flare-ups of MS still eludes science; some think a virus or other toxic factors could be a trigger, but to date, a specific trigger has not been identified. Because inflammatory flare-ups occur and subside, the most common form of MS is called “relapsing-remitting MS”. Because MS is a complex disease, the role of genetic factors is not fully understood, although it is thought that genetics plays a part in determining who may succumb to it.
MS affects three times more women than men and is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. Having said that, there have been cases diagnosed that affect children, sometimes as young as two years old. In Canada, MS is the most common neurological disease affecting our young adults.1 You are slightly more likely to get MS if you have a family history of this condition or live in a part of the world where MS is more common.2 Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world.3
An “attack” is the sudden onset or worsening of MS symptoms (see below) lasting at least 24 hours. It is common for episodes to repeat themselves after the initial attack and to increase in frequency and intensity as the disease progresses, and in some cases, eventually culminating at a point where there is no period of remission.
As the entire central nervous system (CNS) is involved, nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord eventually become irreparably damaged.
The damage caused by an MS attack is a direct result of repeated and extended periods of inflammation as the body attacks the problem but neglects to shut down the attack once the problem is solved.
The good news is the body can repair the damage done by the inflammatory response to the nerve sheath. The bad news is each repair job is less and less effective.
Think of it this way…if you continually have to repair the body of a car with Bondo (body filler) eventually the body becomes weak and ineffective and can’t hold up to the rigors of everyday driving. Yes, it’s repaired but not to its original strength and condition.
SYMPTOMS and COMPLICATIONS
Symptoms vary because the location and severity of each attack can be different.
Attack locations change because your nerves run from the CNS all the way to the outermost reaches of your body, where they then become referred to as part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS is a division of the CNS, containing all the nerves that lie outside of the CNS. The PNS’s primary role is to connect the CNS to the organs, limbs and skin.
Your nerves are the communication highway that serve your muscles and, once extensively damaged, can cause muscle symptoms such as loss of balance, spasms, numbness, mobility problems, problems with coordination and small movements, tremors, and weakness in arms and/or legs.
Episodes can last for 24 hours, days, weeks, or months. The most typical is several days or a few weeks. Triggers include fever, hot baths, sun exposure, and stress. These conditions may not only trigger an episode but can also make an episode worse.
MS can bring about other complications such as depression, difficulty swallowing, concentration difficulties, a diminished ability to care for one’s self, osteoporosis, pressure sores, double vision, eye discomfort, uncontrollable rapid eye movements, vision loss, facial pain, loss of memory, and any side effects that come along with prescribed medications.
TESTING FOR MS
A health care provider may suspect MS if there are decreases in the function of two different parts of the body, including abnormal nerve reflexes, decreased ability to move a part of the body, decreased or abnormal sensation, and/or other loss of nervous system functions. You must also have a history of at least two attacks, separated by a period of reduced or no symptoms. Tests to diagnose MS include a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), an MRI scan of the brain and spine, and a nerve function study.4
NUTRITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR MS
Maintaining a diet that is well-rounded and designed for overall optimum health is most beneficial for people living with MS. Of particular importance is watching your intake of saturated fat (eat less) and dietary fiber (eat more). MS specialists recommend that people with MS adhere to the same low-fat, high fiber diet that is recommended for the general population.5
Potassium is a major regulator in your body, right from your cells to your nerve impulses. In the nervous system, potassium aids in transmitting electrical impulses and ensures your muscles contract properly.
Nutritional sources of potassium include apricots, avocados, bananas, lima beans, dates, potatoes, spinach, yams and raisins.
Calcium plays several important roles in the body, including transmitting nerve impulses and regulating neuromuscular activity.
Nutritional sources of calcium include salmon, dairy foods, almonds, asparagus, broccoli, kale, oats, and tofu.
Magnesium is necessary for calcium and potassium uptake in the body. It can help prevent depression, dizziness, muscle weakness and twitching. It also helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis and helps with the transmission of nerve impulses.
Nutritional sources of magnesium include apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, green leafy vegetables, lima beans, peaches and whole grains.
Omega 3 and 6 are both important for normalized brain and nerve development and function. Omega 3 is beneficial for conditions such as depression and problems concentrating. Omega 3 and 6 are both essential fatty acids, meaning your body can’t live without them but cannot produce them on its own.
Nutritional sources of omega 3 include flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soybeans, salmon, tuna, halibut, flaxseed oil and walnut oil. Sources of omega 6 include corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and canola oil.
NUTTER’S CAN SUGGEST…
Unsaturated essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital to circulation, hemoglobin production, healthy skin, prostaglandin synthesis, brain development, immune function and anti-inflammatory response. OmegaFactors Ultimate 3-6-9 combines flax, fish, and borage oils to provide a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 and omega-9 for optimum health.
1. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
2. and 4. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
3. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
5. National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.