Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of many autoimmune conditions where the immune system attacks body tissues. In MS the fatty myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells is the part of the body that is affected and leads to symptoms related to nerve and muscle function (for an overview see http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/multiple-sclerosis/pages/introduction.aspx).
For any such autoimmune inflammatory condition, a natural approach aims to reduce exacerbations of the condition and slow progression, with the ultimate aim being remission for as long as possible. Central to this approach is using diet, supplements, herbs, exercise and mind-body techniques to:
- Reduce inflammation and oxidation that damage the nerves
- Heal and protect the inflamed tissue, including nerves and blood-brain barrier
- Balance the immune system which has become dysregulated and inflammatory, possibly as a response to virus infection and stress
- Help the body to eliminate substances that contribute to inflammation and immune problems via the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system. Impaired detoxification and storage of inflammatory chemicals including heavy metals and pesticides may be associated with all chronic inflammatory conditions.
- Avoid inflammatory food substances that encourage immune system hyperactivity (most commonly gluten and dairy protein)
- Ensure that the digestive system is in good health in order to avoid unwanted irritants from entering the tissues from a ‘leaky gut’.
- Support good microcirculation and blood vessel health (poor drainage of blood from the brain may be associated with MS)
- Strengthen and increase vitality and energy in the face of stress and chronic conditions
- Support mood, lift depression and reduce anxiety
Therefore a diet should be based on a wide range of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, healing food that nourish and protect nerves and give a good dose of crucial micronutrients (with some supplements). Important micronutrients are vitamins A, C, E, Bs and magnesium which and anti-inflammatory fats which are important for the myelin sheath structure, including omega 3 oils, coconut oil and olive oil. Detoxing foods include cruciferous veg, seaweeds, chlorella, fibre. Probiotic supplements or fermented foods are also important to help with good gut health.
Herbs are really potent healers and are used specifically to address all the issues above; they are used in a way that addresses the individual’s needs rather than as a general prescription for MS. An herbalist always treats the person not simply the condition; everyone has their own particular strengths and weaknesses and these are always central to individualised herbal treatment. There are many herbs that may be used but specific herbs that have been researched for use in MS for interest are:
- turmeric (potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, protects nerves),
- lions mane mushroom (stimulates ‘nerve growth factor’ and balances immune system),
- green tea (potent antioxidant),
- baical skullcap (anti-inflammatory, immune balancer and helps liver fuction),
- ginger (anti-inflammatory),
- cinnamon (helps digestion and helps beneficial bacteria in the gut),
- st johns wort (supports mood and heals nerves),
- celery seed (eliminates inflammatory substances from tissues),
- andrographis (increases vitality, supports liver, improves blood flow)
- ginseng (balances immune system and increases vitality).