You may have heard in late November 2012 the Minnesota Wild goalie, Josh Harding, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body is errantly attacking the myelin sheath that insulates nerves. Without this myelin sheath the nerves do not work properly and patients suffer from strange, often moving neurological symptoms. Early in the disease it can be very hard to diagnose because the symptoms can come and go with months in between attacks. Some symptoms include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, double vision or blurring vision, electric-shock feelings with certain head movements, slurred speech, fatigue, and dizziness. This disease is particularly heartbreaking for families as it often attacks adults in the prime of their life (between the ages of 20 and 40).
The frustration with this disease often starts for patients right away. MS is difficult to diagnose and patients can suffer for years with symptoms growing in severity and then remitting for months at a time only to come back against seemingly out of the blue. Once you finally get diagnosed with MS many people ask, “Doctor, how did I get this?” This only further frustrates the patient as the official response is “We don’t know .”
In all reality the “We don’t know” answer is a party line that is very untrue. We do know that multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, and we have some very good clues to what causes autoimmune diseases. Please see my blog article on autoimmune diseases called “How did I get an Autoimmune Disease?” for more information.
While knowing how you got a disease is important, probably the most important question is: “What can we do to treat this disease and help me feel better?” If you peak at the May Clinic’s website, you’ll find a list of drugs used to help patients with MS. Here is the link directly to the page.
As you start to read you’ll notice a couple key points about these drugs.
1. These drugs have some pretty serious side effects!
2. The goal of these drugs seems to be to suppress the immune system or break part of the immune system function.
Let’s look at goal number 2 in more detail. Remember MS is an autoimmune disease. This means your immune system has broken the golden rule and is attacking your own body! (This has nothing to do with how often you do or do not get sick.) This is like the I, Robot movie with Will Smith or The Terminator series. The golden rule for robots is to not harm humans. The golden rule for the immune system is to not harm your own body. Unfortunately, just like in the movies, this rule has been broken and we have robots and our own immune system attacking us!
What makes me sad about the typical medical solution for MS is the lack of positive, natural, safe co-treatments that can benefit the patient. The basics of MS are the your immune system is errantly attacking the myelin sheath around your nerves. Therefore, to help someone with this condition I have two goals.
1. Help repair the myelin sheath and keep it as healthy as possible
2. Help restore immune system order and function
Don’t these goals make sense? Let’s tackle some basics on this.
The best place to start here is with a good fish oil. A 2005 in Protaglandins, leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids study found omega 3 supplementation to be beneficial for patients with MS over pacebo . The trick with neurological problems is we want a fish oil with a high DHA/EPA ratio. In our office we use Brain-E DHA from Apex Energetics as it has a 14/1 ratio of DHA/EPA. Research has shown that the high DHA is the best if you want to support the neuron health. Your myelin sheath around the nerves is being destroyed which hinders proper neuron function! Provide your body with the necessary raw materials to remake this myelin sheath as much as possible and promote the healthiest neurons you can have.
Another component to healthy myelin appears to be proper action of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine . The healthy signaling
of these neurotransmitters stimulates the glial cells to produce the myelin and repair the damage in patients with multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of a dopamine deficiency are:
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Inability to handle stress or anger while under stress
• A preference to isolate yourself from others
• An unexplained lack of concern for family and friends
• Easily distracted from tasks or can’t finish tasks
• Decreased libido
• A need to consume caffeine to stay alert
• Losing your temper for minor reasons
Symptoms of an acetylcholine deficiency are:
• Decrease in visual and/or verbal memory
• Memory lapses
• Decreased comprehension
• Difficulty calculating numbers
• Difficulty recognizing objects and faces
• An overall slowed mental response
If you suffer from a cluster of symptoms for either dopamine or acetylcholine deficiency, then nutritional support for either or both can be beneficial. For more information on how to have a health brain see my post entitled ”Healthy Nervous System = Healthy Body.”
There are also specific nutrients that can help each neurotransmitter. For example L-Huperzine A can aid specifically in acetyl choline metabolism . Mucuna pruriens and Beta-phenylethylamine (PEA) have been shown to promote healthy dopamine signaling and metabolism.
This is the topic I will close our article on today, and give you a hint at what I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks. Do you know how to restore immune system order and function? Has anyone ever talked to you about immune system order and function? The answer is most likely a big NO! I personally believe immunology is going to be the next big boom in healthcare over the next 10-15 years. We just went through a tremendous boom in neurology with the advent of functional MRI, and literature is showing our first real advancements in immunology in decades. The problem is this information is so new it has not found its way into school yet. The common doctor (and even most immunologists) are woefully uneducated about the recent advancements in immune system testing and tools to help rebalance the immune system. Standard treatment for any autoimmune problem for decades has been steroids which suppress the immune system, or a different drug that also suppresses the immune system. In future articles I am going to talk about testing cytokines. Cytowhat you say? Cytokines. Remember this word as you are going to hear about them more and more in the future.
Cytokines are chemical messengers of the immune system. It is how the immune system talks to itself and the rest of your body. In order to help with any autoimmune disease (like MS), the new standard will be actually testing these immune cytokines. In our next few blog posts I am going to unpack the immune system mystery and talk about the new generation of tests that are revolutionizing our way of treatment for MS and other autoimmune diseases.
In the meantime, let me tell you that vitamin D is very important in MS. Rather than quote epidemiological studies here I’ll talk about vitamin D’s role on your immune system. Vitamin D aids the TH3 branch of your immune system, which is chiefly the Treg cell and it expresses a protein on it called FOXP3. One of our best markers for this system is the cytokine IL-10 (interleukin 10). Vitamin D helps this cell function better, and this cell’s function is vital for helping the immune system regain control. IL-10 helps the immune system to deactivate and stop autoimmune reactions. I would say that is an important thing for any autoimmune disease.
I recommend you get your blood tested for vitamin D, and you want it to be AT LEAST to the upper range of normal (60-80 ng/ml in my lab). Most people need to take 4-8,000 iu/day of vitamin D to achieve this level.
In closing, if you have MS please do not stop at the medication. You need to add in things that help your body function. You need help for your nerves. You need help for controlling your immune system. Come back next week and read the article I’ll write delving into the soon to be famous world of the immune system cytokines.
Thank you for reading.