Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease affecting the fatty sheath that covers nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This sheath, made of a substance called myelin, normally insulates the nerve fibers, allowing nerve impulses to move swiftly and efficiently between brain, spinal cord, and body. In MS, patchy areas of this insulating material are destroyed and replaced by scar tissue, which results in the slowing or blocking of nerve signals. People with MS may experience symptoms such as blurred vision, muscle weakness and spasticity, difficulty walking, poor coordination, bladder problems, numbness, and fatigue. In its most common form, the disease begins between the ages of 20 and 40 with an initial attack of symptoms followed by partial or complete remission. Further attacks usually follow and can eventually lead to progressive disability. Another form of the disease progresses more quickly.
There is no cure as yet for MS, but several new drugs—including two forms of the substance interferon ( Avonex and Betaseron), and an unrelated drug, glatiramer acetate (Copaxone)—appear able to reduce the frequency of relapses in people with certain forms of MS and slow the rate of progression of the disease. Other medications reduce the severity of acute attacks or treat specific symptoms such as muscle spasticity.
Proposed Natural Treatments
While there are no well-documented natural treatments for multiple sclerosis, there are a few options that may provide some help.
One of the omega-6 essential fatty acids, linoleic acid, is found in high concentration in sunflower and safflower oil as well as in lower concentrations in most other vegetable oils. Several researchers have investigated whether linoleic acid in the form of sunflower seed oil can help MS, but the results of their research were equivocal.
Although interesting, this type of after-the-fact analysis must be interpreted with caution. More studies are needed to confirm whether linoleic acid, taken early in the course of MS or at other times, has the power to prevent, delay, or improve disability. In the three double-blind studies described above, participants received 17 to 20 g of linoleic acid per day, the equivalent of 1 ounce of sunflower seed oil.
Other Essential Fatty Acids
There has been much excitement about other essential fatty acids as treatments for MS, including those found in fish oil (omega-3) and evening primrose oil (omega-6). However, current evidence does not yet support this concept.
Early evidence suggests that threonine, a naturally occurring amino acid, might be able to decrease the muscle spasticity that often occurs with MS.
Vitamin B 12
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the Vitamin B 12 article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the Vitamin D article.
Phenylalanine and TENS
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that we need it for life and our bodies can't manufacture it from other chemicals. We normally obtain all the phenylalanine we need for nutritional purposes from high-protein foods. Supplemental phenylalanine has been studied for MS only in combination with another treatment called transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS), a portable electrical device used to decrease pain and muscle spasticity.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -