A Naturopathic Approach to Multiple Sclerosis
By: Dr. Jeannie Doig, ND
Multiple sclerosis is believed to be an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. It is caused by the gradual loss of the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This process is called demyelination. Without the myelin sheath, nerve function is lost. This disease affects one in one thousand people in North America and Northern Europe and is much more common in women than men. It is significantly more common in geographic areas of higher latitudes (likely due to vitamin D deficiency).
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis include fatigue, paralysis, numbness, blurred vision, lack of coordination, speech and swallowing impairments, bladder and bowel problems, sensitivity to heat, memory loss and depression, sexual dysfunction, pain, and tremors. Multiple sclerosis is classified as:
Benign: usually one or two attacks with complete recovery
Relapsing-Remitting: unpredictable relapses (attacks, exacerbations) during which new symptoms appear or existing ones worsen. Flare-ups are followed by periods of remission.
Primary progressive: from the first appearance of symptoms, neurological function deteriorates without periods of remission.
Secondary progressive: initial relapsing-remitting MS, followed by a continuous deterioration later in the course of the disease.
Progressive-relapsing: primary progressive MS with the addition of sudden episodes of new symptoms or a worsening of existing ones.
This disease is considered incurable and why people develop MS is uncertain. Many different theories as to the cause have been proposed such as an infection or virus, Lyme disease, genetics, or an overgrowth of candidiasis (yeast and fungus) in the body. Essentially, multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disease where one’s own immune system attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding the nerve cells. Poor diet, stress, toxicity, and lack of essential vitamins and nutrients can all contribute to the progression of the disease since these factors ALL affect the health and balance of one’s immune system.
As a naturopathic doctor, I treat each patient as an individual. Therefore, one’s diet, mental outlook, digestion, and lifestyle are assessed, as well as a physical exam and urine tests are conducted. I test for heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities, candidiasis (yeast overgrowth in the gut), and urine acidity levels which all can affect the health of the immune system. Each person may be genetically programmed for developing certain chronic illnesses but by optimizing one’s health we can theoretically slow down these genetic predispositions.
The typical North American diet high in sugar and artificial sweeteners, processed foods, pesticides, white and refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats can seriously damage the immune system leaving one more susceptible to chronic disease. I coach patients as to what foods to eat for their health and provide them with whole foods menu plans and recipes to optimize their immune system. The Dr. Swank Diet was proposed in the 1940s to treat MS. This diet is low in saturated fats (no red meats or dairy) and high in unsaturated fats (nuts, olive oil, flax oil, sunflower oil). No margarine, shortening or hydrogenated (trans fats) were allowed. Fish was recommended at least three times a week with a few tablespoons of cod liver oil a day added as well. This diet was shown to help improve the immune system (due to its high content of essential omega-3 fatty acids), and slow the progression of MS if followed for at least a few years.
Vitamin and mineral supplementation is also important for MS patients. Free radical damage (damage to cells as we age) is increased by stress, poor diet, and toxicity in the environment as well as heavy metal exposure. Free radical damage may contribute to the nerve damage and the progression of multiple sclerosis. Antioxidant vitamins quench free radicals and prevent their destruction of cells in the body. Antioxidants are high in colourful fruits and veggies (berries, carrots, yams, kale, spinach) and can be taken in supplement form of Vitamin C, E, Selenium and alpha-lipoic acid. These antioxidants help the liver to detoxify and get rid harmful toxins, pesticides, and metals in the body. As well, Vitamin B12 (specifically in the methylcobalmin form) is important for MS patients as it helps to regenerate the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves, helping to reduce neurological symptoms of tingling and numbness as well as improving energy levels. MS patients are often low in this vitamin and are unable to absorb it orally. These patients can benefit from high doses of regular B12 methylcobalmin injections.
Keeping as active as possible and maintaining a positive outlook is also very important. Many patients with MS struggle with depression due to lack of recognition and awareness of the disease, as well as lack of available treatment. The MS walk this week is a wonderful way to improve awareness in the community and encourage healthy activity and camaraderie.
Dr. Jeannie Doig, Naturopathic Doctor, practises in the Alberni Valley at 4711 Elizabeth St. She is trained in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, Bowen Therapy, intravenous vitamin therapy, and chelation therapy. Call 250-723-9888. Website: www.drjeanniedoig.com