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Multiple Sclerosis: Overlooked Nutritional Research

Part I


    
Overview

Multiple sclerosis is considered a chronic condition of unknown origin whose main feature is destruction of myelin sheaths.  Researchers have found many factors associated with MS, but have been unable to find a singular cause, such as a mutant gene or a viral infection, that would logically explain the onset of MS.  Perhaps this is because MS does not have a single cause. Osteoporosis is a common finding in people with MS.  Since osteoporosis has many causes, it would be logical to consider the possibility that MS is similar to osteoporosis -- a multifactorial condition with genetic tendencies, and yet highly influenced by environmental factors.  

Interestingly, people with MS have been found to have a wide variety of nutritional deficits, and many of these deficits are the same ones that cause osteoporosis, as well as many of the symptoms of MS.  It is unlikely that this is a set of random coincidences, but more apt to be a logical sequence of causes and effects. Perhaps MS and osteoporosis occur together because they share some of the same root causes.

Many researchers seem to spend their time looking for a singular cause of MS. In light of the wide variety of factors already uncovered, there is no logical reason to assume that MS does have a singular cause, any more than there is any reason to assume it has 39 causes or 5 causes or 2 causes.  Perhaps MS, like many other chronic conditions, is the result not of a singular genetic, viral or environmental event, but rather the result of a wide variety of factors that may be different for different people.
  
Logically, any one MS study considered alone does not explain the results of the other studies.  A number of studies have linked MS to air pollution, lack of sunlight exposure, a lack of essential fatty acids and many other factors. However, any one of these studies, taken individually, does not logically explain the findings of the other studies.

 
A few observations and much reasoning lead to error;  many observations and a little reasoning to truth. 
Alexia Carrel 

If MS was due solely to a lack of sunlight exposure or a lack of essential fatty acids, then why would people with MS get bladder infections?  If MS was due solely to air pollution, then why would it be more common in women between the ages of 20 - 40?  Why would air pollution cause osteoporosis and nystagmus?  Logically, if MS has only one cause, then the other 99% of the studies on MS pointing to different causes are all either wrong or irrelevant.   
  
I don't think most of the studies are wrong.   I think the majority of the studies on MS done to date provide valuable clues to MS.  Since there is no single nutrient, unrelated to other biochemicals, that goes into making myelin sheaths in the body, it is highly unlikely that MS is due to one single cause.  If we consider the possibility that most of the MS studies are valid, then we should be trying to figure out how they all fit together into a logical scenario, and not which one contains the singularly correct answer.

Researchers have been investigating as many areas as possible as causes of MS, including nutritional, genetic, environmental and viral factors.  Some researchers think too much milk during childhood may lead to MS.  Some think it is a result of too much car pollution. Some think it is the result of a virus. Unfortunately, there is not a lot most of us can do about our genes, we can't go back in time and change our childhood diets, single handedly combat air pollution or take measures to combat  a virus that has not been proven to exist.  

There is however, a lot we can do about changing our diets to correct nutritional deficiencies, and many studies show that people with MS do have problems with malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies.  Researchers vary on whether or not dietary changes can help MS.  However, if you look at the scientific studies on MS, and not just what people believe to be true, then there is a significant body of research that says nutrition and other environmental factors may play major roles in the disorder.     

In any event, making healthy, positive diet changes, with your healthcare provider's guidance, is generally considered a good thing to do, and it has minimal costs.  If you are like the people in the studies listed below, then dietary changes may improve your MS symptoms, too.  
 
 MS Symptoms and Nutritional Links 
 
I have a disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is supposedly an incurable hereditary connective tissue disorder (HCTD). Yet, in doing research on EDS, I found lots of diet and supplement tips that helped my condition by collecting nutrition books and reviewing studies in Medline, the medical research database at the National Institute of Health's website.  An acquaintance of mine has multiple sclerosis, and in comparing symptoms there seemed to be some overlap between MS and EDS.  In order to help my friend, I did the same research for MS that I did for myself and EDS. Her MS symptoms improved through changing her nutritional habits, which is why I decided to put up this web site. 

The shared common conditions between multiple sclerosis and EDS and other connective tissue disorders include: 

  • Fractures
  • Osteoporosis
  • Coordination problems
  • Autonomic nervous system dysfunction
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Intestinal gas and bowel problems
  • Allergies and chemical sensitivities
  • Signs of estrogen deficiency
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Sensory perception problems
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Blood that does not clot readily

If we consider the possibility that both multiple sclerosis and EDS are each affected by variations of nutritional deficiencies, then the overlaps between the two disorders all make sense.  There are also then logical reasons why diverse conditions such as low blood pressure, poor muscle tone, low body weight and fractures all appear together, regardless of whether they appear as isolated events, or as features associated with a specific syndrome or chronic medical condition. 

Magnesium 

See my section on magnesium and MS for more on this topic.

Gluten Intolerance

One of the causes of magnesium deficiency is a diet high in grains, such as wheat, that have phytic acid.  Phytic acid binds magnesium making it unavailable to the body.  Wheat is an arid crop.  It does not grow, and subsequently is not a staple food, in tropical countries.  MS is also uncommon in tropical countries.  Interestingly, wheat is a staple food in many of the countries in which MS frequently occurs.

Gluten intolerance has also been implicated in MS, and MS does occur more frequently in countries with high gluten diets.  Gluten intolerance can lower absorption of minerals like magnesium.   Perhaps not coincidentally, MS is uncommon in Asian countries like China and Japan, where the main starch is rice.  Rice does not contain gluten.   

Urinary Tract Infections 

See my section on MS & Bladder Infections for more on this topic.
 
Estrogen 

Urinary incontinence, fractures and osteoporosis are features of both MS and lowered estrogen conditions.  Interestingly, a study of people with MS showed half of the people with the disorder to have lowered urinary estrogen levels Lowered estrogen levels reduce magnesium uptake.   Magnesium deficiencies share many features of MS.  As such it would be logical to consider that estrogen levels may play an important role in the development of MS.
   

Vitamin D  

A vitamin D deficiency has been shown to cause a multiple sclerosis like condition in mice. Which is interesting, because many people with MS have also been found to be low in vitamin D.  MS is less common in areas with lots of sunlight exposure, in both geographic areas at higher altitudes and areas closer proximity to the equator.  Sunlight exposure is a major source of vitamin D.  MS is also less common in areas where fish is commonly eaten.  Fish oils are another major natural source of vitamin D.  There seems to be some very suggestive evidence that vitamin D may well play a role in MS. 

 
Similarly, a December 2006 study in more than seven million people found that white members of the U.S. military who had high blood levels of vitamin D were 62 per cent less likely to develop multiple sclerosis than those with the lowest levels of the vitamin. Read more...

Immigrants to France from North Africa have been found to have much higher rates of multiple sclerosis than the population of France in general, and higher than the rates of MS in North African countries.  Why?  A lack of sunlight exposure would provide a logical cause. Immigrants from North Africa are likely to have darker skin.  It is well established that people with darker skin from African and Asian countries have problems with rickets and osteomalacia when they move to European countries.  This is usually because their darker skin cannot absorb enough sunlight in often cloudy Northern latitudes to manufacture sufficient vitamin D In the U.S., vitamin D has been added to milk to prevent rickets, but people of African decent are often lactose intolerant and have trouble digesting dairy products, and as a result are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. 

Osteomalacia and rickets are both diseases that cause lowered bone densities and are disorders that are similar to osteoporosis, the condition often found in MS.  If a vitamin D deficiency is a factor in MS, then this would provide a logical reason why MS is much more prevalent in Africans living in France, than there is for the generally light skinned French population as a whole.  It would also explain why Africans living in North Africa, a place with more sunshine, do not get MS.  Interestingly, a lack of sunlight has been implicated in MS by a number of researchers. 

Uric Acid and Gout  

So who does not get MS? This is perhaps the biggest clue to MS of them all.  Generally, people with gout. According to one paper, a review of 20 million patient records found the ailments appear to be almost mutually exclusive. 

If people with MS rarely develop gout, and those with gout rarely develop MS, then it would be logical to look at why these conditions may be close to mutually exclusive. First, let's look at what causes gout.  It is high levels of uric acid.  

Interestingly, studies in the U.S. and Hungary show that people with MS have low levels of uric acid.  Uric acid has been successfully used to treat experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, the mouse model of multiple sclerosis.   Could higher levels of uric acid be used to treat humans with MS,  just like it worked for the mice?  

We already know many of the conditions that contribute to high uric acid levels, because of all the studies that have been done on gout. The main dietary factor is thought to be a diet high in purines.  Food high in purines include:

  • Anchovies
  • Asparagus
  • Brains
  • Beef kidneys
  • Cauliflower
  • Game meats
  • Gravies
  • Herring
  • Liver
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Sweetbreads

One causative factor in gout and uric acid production is molybdenum, an essential mineral.  Molybdenum is needed to aid in converting purines to uric acid.  Molybdenum deficiencies are an established cause of uric acid deficiencies.  Interestingly, molybdenum supplements are not advised for people with gout because molybdenum may raise uric acid levels.  Perhaps raised uric acid levels would be a desirable condition for people with MS. 

A low intake of molybdenum can cause male impotence, a symptom associated with MS.  Recent studies link molybdenum deficiencies to neurological damage.  Are these links between molybdenum deficiency and MS symptoms coincidence, or logical causes and effects?  Though not widely known, a linkage between molybdenum deficiency and MS has been noted as far back as 1976. Is is also of interest
to note that higher incidences of multiple sclerosis have been noted where the soil is lower in microelements, including molybdenum

Ninety percent of the people who get gout are males.  Menstruating females rarely, if ever, get gout -- it occurs only in males and sometimes post menopausal females.  Interestingly, women of child bearing age are the group that has the highest rate of MS, a somewhat inverse demographic relationship with who gets gout.  This is not likely to be a random coincidence.  Do males have a higher tendency to have higher uric acid levels?  Does this protect them somewhat from MS, but make them more susceptible to gout? 

One researcher thinks excess iron may be a factor in gout.  Menstruating women would be unlikely to have excess iron, because they lose iron each month in the blood lost during menstruation.  Menstruating women are more likely to suffer from anemia.  Iron deficiency anemia has been observed in at least one family with occurrences of  MS.  If high iron levels contribute to gout, then it is possible that low iron levels would contribute to MS.   

One study noted that hospital patients with MS had low levels of both zinc and iron.  The study authors thought the MS patients were at risk for poor nutritional status.  There is another possibility to be considered: perhaps people with poor nutritional status are at risk for MS.  I believe the latter version presents a more likely scenario, especially when considered in the context of all the other studies done on the disorder and the other nutritional deficiencies found in MS patients. 

Vitamin B12 

  
Vitamin B12 deficiencies and MS share features of soreness and weakness of the legs and arms, difficulty in walking, diminished sensory perception, difficulty in speaking, memory loss, jerking of limbs, fatigue and  paralysis.   Perhaps not coincidentally, vitamin B12 anomalies  have been linked to people with MS in quite a few studies.  Some researchers  think B12 deficits are a prime factor in MS. 

Symptom of B12 Deficiency

 
Symptom of MS
     
soreness and weakness of the legs and arms   soreness and weakness of the legs and arms
     
difficulty in walking   difficulty in walking
     
diminished sensory perception   diminished sensory perception
     
difficulty in speaking   difficulty in speaking
     
memory loss   memory loss
     
jerking of limbs   jerking of limbs
     
fatigue   fatigue
     
paralysis   paralysis
     
low uric acid levels   low uric acid levels

One study found around 40% of the people tested with MS to be suffering from malabsorption problems, which would, of course, lead to nutritional deficiencies.  Interestingly, in the study linked to previously, malabsorption of vitamin B12 was specifically noted.  Malabsorption may occur from a wide variety of causes.  One known cause of malabsorption is a lack of beneficial intestinal bacteria needed to digest food. 

What is very interesting is that one of my nutrition books notes that  vitamin B12  raises uric acid levels.  As noted above, uric acid is low in people with MS, as are vitamin B12 levels.  Uric acid therapy has successfully treated mice with MS symptoms.   

Continued at Alternative Treatments for MS - Part II

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