Need to Know: Natural Strategies to Fight MS Inflammation

Need to Know: Natural Strategies to Fight MS Inflammation

ms in moderation

Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forum.

This week’s question was inspired by the forum topic “Do you know any natural remedies that help fight inflammation?“, from May 3.

The role of inflammation in MS

Inflammation is a double-edged sword. When healthy, it’s a process that promotes healing. But when the immune system runs awry, as it does with chronic autoimmune conditions like MS, it can be damaging and disabling.

Chronic “silent inflammation” is a foe every person with MS must be wary of.

How inflammation hacks the brain

When a person has MS, inflammation in their bodies leads to the release of proteins called cytokines, which wreak havoc on the central nervous system.

Cytokines can disturb the brain’s “firewall,” known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB exists to prevent inflammation from reaching the brain, but in MS, these cytokines “hack” the brain’s “firewall,” leading to potential demyelination by the immune system.

Another compound that can disrupt the function of the BBB is a type of amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine can indicate a dysfunctional, porous “firewall.”

Discuss the latest research in the MS News Today forums!

What inflammation does to the central nervous system

Once these inflammatory substances breach the BBB, they can attack the brain, optic nerve, basal ganglia, and spinal cord, releasing T lymphocytes (T-cells), which are known to increase inflammation and swelling.

Their attacking of the myelin coating of white matter nerves is dangerous. White matter is in charge of sending electrical signals between the brain and gray matter regions, where major processing and function takes place.

Demyelination of these nerves disrupts and can even destroy these functions. In MS, T-cell attacks are constant, making it impossible for the brain to re-myelinate damaged nerves.

Natural strategies to relieve inflammation

Several therapies are used to treat inflammation. They can be extremely useful during major MS flare-ups or for relief when symptoms are painful and disabling. However, they have side effects. Sometimes, a flare-up may be mild to moderate and treatment with medication may not be needed. Instead, it might be controlled in the following ways:

Anti-inflammatory diets

Foods that promote inflammation include those with high-sugar and high-fat content. Animal proteins are high in saturated fat, as are most dairy products.

Trans fats found in margarine, snack foods, fried foods, and packaged baked goods are highly inflammatory as well. These foods create an imbalance in the gut microbiome which may lead to chronic inflammation. Avoid simple carbohydrates or “white” foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta.

Home cooking is the best way to control what you eat. Freshly prepared meals rich in fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains are usually lower in saturated fat and higher in healthier monounsaturated fat or Omega-3 fatty acids.

Incorporate fresh herbs and spices using olive or flaxseed oils into your dishes. Water, sparkling water (with citrus slices), and teas (white, oolong, or green) are the best bets for beverages to enjoy during the day.

Finally, for the sweet-tooth craving, try unsweetened dried fruit, nonfat yogurt, fresh fruit sorbets, or dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa) in moderation. Maintaining stable blood sugar is key to calming the immune system.

Avoid toxins

Smoking and second-hand smoke should be avoided. Nicotine is a suspected trigger for increased disease activity (and inflammation) in people with MS.

Other environmental toxins and allergens should also be avoided: These include smog, household cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, hidden toxins in health and beauty products, heavy metals, and even naturally occurring biotoxins such as mold.

Supplements

Supplements that may be useful include:

  • Vitamin D. This nutrient is a powerful immunomodulator and immune system relaxant. Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement, obtained by consuming certain foods such as cold-water fish, fortified dairy products, and eggs, or absorbed by exposure to natural sunlight or a light therapy device.
  • Alpha lipoic acid. This antioxidant has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is particularly effective for preventing optic neuritis, a common symptom of MS. It is found in spinach, broccoli, green peas, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and brewer’s yeast.
  • Saint John’s wort. This substance inhibits the cytokine known as interleukin-6. It is typically taken as a supplement and is doubly beneficial when used for stress reduction.
  • Resveratrol. Another natural inhibitor of interleukin-6, this substance naturally occurs in red wine, red grapes, dark-colored berries, and dark chocolate.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated or essential fatty acids are known anti-inflammatory agents.

Chiropractic treatment

Research suggests that the coordination of signal delivery in the central nervous system is hampered by misalignment where the bones of the skull (the occiput and atlas) meet the spine. Compression here, at the top of the spinal cord, may cause inflammation, and chiropractic adjustment may bring relief.

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What have you done to alleviate inflammation? What’s worked, what hasn’t, and what are you interested in trying? Reply in the comments below or at the original “Do you know any natural remedies that help fight inflammation?” forum entry.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

14 comments

  1. Pedro says:

    When I had my Ms attack, my homocysteine was 45 (extremely high). My neurologist said it’s unrelated! And I couldn’t find any relation online. This is the first time I see a mention of the relation between homocysteine and Ms attacks. Can you provide references for this particular statement? Thank you in advance.

      • Pedro says:

        Yes, I missed the link. Thank you. I find it interesting that they consider a homocysteine level of 13 to be high while mine was 45.
        Later upon genetic testing it turned out that I have a not so uncommon MTHFR gene polymorphism that reduces my bodies ability of getting rid of homocysteine. Shouldn’t this test be a standard test for people experiencing an attack? Why is it ignored by the neurology community? (I had mentioned this test result to three different neuros, two in Italy, one in Belgium, all essentially shrugging and saying it’s unrelated).
        By the way if you are wondering, I have not experienced an attack since my only attack which is confusing. I guess we all want to find an excuse to think it’s not gonna come back :p

        • Tamara Sellman says:

          That’s interesting. There are probably reasons for them not testing for homocysteine that we’re not aware of. I’m just guessing here, but maybe it’s the cost of the test?

          As for not having another attack, count your blessings! I have been in remission for 5 years, my MS is a slow progresser. Before treatment I would go between 5 and 8 years before experiencing a relapse (based entirely on retrospective tracing of my health history). Now that I’m being treated, I’m hopeful that if I do have a relapse, it will take more time and/or be less severe. Good luck, maybe you are a slow progresser too?

          Best wishes,
          Tamara

  2. David Keeley says:

    Can you provide references to your statement regarding non processed saturated fats animal proteins causing inflammation. Opposite of what I have read from the likes of Dr Wahls. Thank You

  3. Thank you Tamara.
    Very informative and easily unerstood . I will be using the links you have suggested .
    I too , am also a slow progresser, almost 10 years from diagnosis to forced retirement ( I forced myself to retire ).I also think I subconsciously buried MS from my mind and ignored symptoms until I couldn’t any longer.
    New subject… Question , could you direct me in finding some ( understandable ) information of the effects of women’s menstrual cycle and MS .
    I have often thought of mini relapses each month. Now ,
    as I get older ( I just became 50 yrs. ) and slightly older friends talk of menopause and hot flashes, what should I expect knowing heat , in my case anyhow , does not help.

    Thanks you for you time .
    Paula Johnston

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      RE: slow progression… my first symptom, that we can date, happened in August 1975. I was 9. Two cases of mono before the age of 20, unrelenting fatigue that I thought was due to being a working mom, then it progressed enough to show me it existed (I suddenly couldn’t read–imagine being a writer/editor and suddenly you can’t read–plus the paresthesias and tinnitus and tremor). That was when I was 47. Today I am in stable remission (now that I’m actually treated for it!) even though these symptoms come and go (and others).

      As for menstrual cycle/MS/menopause etc. That’s a tough one. I am now postmenopausal, and was in menopause when I started taking Tec (which has flushing as a side effect). I was also working overnight shifts. There was no way for me to know if the profusive sweating was menopause, caused by a circadian disruption from shift work, due to the lesion on my hypothalamus (where thermoregulation takes place), or a side effect of my meds! Since then, I’ve moved to daytime work only, I’m in a solid remission, I’m done with menopause and I rarely have a side effect from Tec (I’ve been on it almost 6 years now, and that’s normal). Who even knows? LOL

      It’s a good question, though, and I’ll see what I can dig up. Thanks for asking, Paula. Best of luck to you,
      Tamara

  4. Deb Whitmore says:

    I agree that food an toxins in everything are what we need testing for we are not eating food that feed the brain, also for some brain food is stopped by our own body’s chemicals. My cognitive brain is so messed up. Trying to find nutrition’s an natural docs. Medicare an all others will not cover these type problems.

  5. Brad Schultz says:

    As well as reducing or eliminating inflammation, improving your immune system is a crucial part of the stay healthy formula and offsetting symptoms. I have used Tai Chi and Qigong for years to successfully manage my levels of inflammation. I have found the eastern internal arts can provide natural techniques and exercises that charge-up the immune system and reduce the inflammatory response.

  6. I would just add that adding biotin supplements and b12 supplements were also very helpful for my symptoms and encouraged by my neurologist. In fact, b12 deficiency can confuse an MS diagnosis – it happened to me – and so can a biotinase deficiency (which they just discovered -they don’t really have an adult test for it.) Many people with MTHFR genes do not absorb b vitamins well – I am one of them. There is active research now that is very promising that is treating MS with high-dose purified biotin – and not only does it prevent disease, it might help heal nerves (alpha lipoic acid has similar – but much smaller) research results so far.
    Another thing several neurologists AND nutritionists have told me – as a woman with a typical “healthy” diet, we eat too little good fat and too little protein. Fat and cholesterol are necessary for brain repair, I have been told. So I went from eating lots of carbs from fruit and veggies to more protein and more healthy fat, including avocado and avocado oil every single day. That seemed to help my symptoms, too. The keto diet has some promising research behind it (out for me, because I don’t have a gallbladder) and the Mediterranean (full of healthy fats and produce.)
    Also, I have autoimmune thyroid issues which can go out of whack with MS, so keep a “healthy thyroid” diet too – there are specific things to add and avoid for that problem, too.

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