Imagine the plastic material around the outside of the electrical cables in your house started disintegrating and falling off. What would happen? We all know that this is dangerous – the job of the insulation on an electrical cable is to ensure the electricity stays in the cable until it gets to the end of the cable, where it can deliver its signal. Any breaks in the cable mean the electricity can escape along the way, effectively “shorting” the circuit. This is very similar to what happens in multiple sclerosis – commonly known as MS. The protective layer around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord become damaged, disrupting the transmission of nerve signals.
Normal Nerve Cell Versus Nerve Cell with MS
Early in the disease, symptoms can be temporary – such as alterations to vision, muscle weakness or problems with sensation or coordination. Symptoms can be just about anything you can think of and they can come and go – sometimes with years in between attacks. No cause has been found and sometimes symptoms disappear – often for years – before returning, perhaps in the same area, or perhaps as completely new symptoms.
No-one knows what causes MS. Some theories include the body’s immune system attacking the nerve sheath, but this has never been proven. Other contributions are thought to be environmental, such as a viral infection. What is known is that the further one lives from the equator, the higher the chance of getting MS. There are some exceptions to this, one example is moving before the age of 15. People moving from a high-risk to a low-risk country before this age acquire the (low) risk of their new low-risk country (and vice-versa). This connection to geography is thought to be associated with sun exposure and therefore vitamin D levels, with early life and season of birth also associated with risk of developing the condition.
World Distribution of MS
MS is a chronic, progressive disease that is more common in women than men and it has limited treatment options and no known cure.
Naturopathy and herbal medicine strategies available for people with MS depend very much on how the disease is affecting them. Some therapies may help reduce pain, promote restful sleep or support mood. Others may be centred on mind-body approaches, such as encouraging mindfulness, yoga or Tai Chi, or body therapies such as massage to support the person from a holistic perspective.
There are some other things that might be worth considering in those with MS. Here’s just a few, and the research that shows what research has been done so far.
An experiment in an animal model of MS found that hydrogen-rich water improved the immune function and reduced clinical scores associated with the condition. It also slowed the rate of deterioration of the protective nerve sheath. We’re still waiting for studies in humans, but considering that hydrogen-rich water is safe, non-toxic, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, where it can exert its effect, it’s a pretty good option!
The Gut Microbiome
Studies show the gut microbiome in people with MS have some general alterations, and associations with increased inflammation has been demonstrated. This is an exciting area of research, with recent studies (again in animals), demonstrating that gut microbes may play a big part in how susceptible a person might be to some of the sub-types of MS. Again, we are waiting for research in this area in humans, but other work has shown that by making changes to the diet, the gut microbiome can change and this may have positive effects on the nervous system and disease progression
As the above research suggests, altering the diet can impact not only the gut bacteria, but the disease itself. A review of a range of diets for MS has been conducted, which concluded that there is a range of dietary factors and patterns that may have a significant impact in MS. We believe that if these diet changes are driven by the principles of a healthful, nutritious diet, with emphasis on wholesome foods and specific alterations depending on the individual gut microbial profile, enabling us to maximise the chance that a person with MS will have at least a slowing of the rate of disease progression.