Nutrition and Multiple Sclerosis - A Paper by Jodi Watkins (written May 8, 2013)

Updated: Apr 24

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the myelin (protective) sheaths surrounding neurons in the body. Neurons are the cells that send electrical impulses throughout the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to tell the body what to do and how to move. When the myelin sheaths are compromised, the body is unable to function normally. People who have the disease are usually unable to focus and move around like they normally did before diagnosis. The disease is more common in women and usually surfaces between the ages of 25 and 40. Those who have a family member with the disease have a greater chance of getting it. Multiple Sclerosis has gained much attention over the past couple decades and many studies have been performed to see how nutrition and exercise interferes with the disease and benefits associated with keeping a healthy lifestyle(1).


The specific cause of the disease is unknown; however, it has been linked to genetics and diet. Environmental factors, such as where a person lives or where they have been employed (if around chemicals, toxins, etc.) may also be factors. Since the disease effects people differently, it is difficult for scientists to pinpoint actual causes for it and how to cure it. Although there is currently no actual cure for MS, there are treatment options available. Some of the treatments include changing a person’s diet and exercise plan. Other treatments involve medications such as copaxone. Copaxone has been shown to stimulate the production of myelin basic protein, which in turn helps rebuild the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves. It is used because it has been proven to reduce the number of relapses an MS patient has per year(2). Other drugs used in treating the disease include Avonex, Betaseron, Movatrone, and Rebif(3). None of these drugs can cure the disease. They simply are used to treat the outcomes of MS and combat its effects on the body. Other ways to treat the effect MS has on the body include rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapy, eating healthy and exercising(3).


Many studies have been performed to prove exercise and proper nutrition is very beneficial to those who have MS. MS attacks the central nervous system, which includes movement. Exercise and weight training is vital to maintain muscle mass and strong bones. “There is strong evidence that exercise therapy, including aerobic exercise and resistance training, improves muscle power function, exercise tolerance functions and mobility-related activities such as walking in people with significant disability.”(4) Most physicians will tell people who are diagnosed to keep up with their physical and mental health. Staying active helps combat the outcomes of the disease and allows people to maintain a lifestyle they enjoy. This fact is also linked to dealing with depression associated with MS.


Exercise has been shown to limit depression in those who have the disease because it keeps them from dwelling on what is going on with their bodies and keeps them constantly moving, which enables them to be able to stay more independent. People who are limited with their movements are more prone to depression. Keeping up with an exercise regimen keeps people from getting bogged down with the negative aspects of the disease and keeps them more motivated to conquer any negative aspects they have been introduced to.

Many individuals do not realize just how important nutrition is to their bodies. One individual wrote an article found in Momentum Magazine, a magazine that provides information for people with MS. She wrote about how she went from eating horribly to paying attention to what she was eating and making sure she ate the proper nutrients. She ate more fatty fish that had Omega-3 oils, avocados, fresh fruits, and green vegetables filled with fiber. She stopped drinking sodas and other sugary, calorie-filled drinks. She ended up becoming a certified nutritional consultant and learned where she could get vital vitamins and minerals, such as the B vitamin group, iron, and vitamins C, K, and A5. These vitamins are pertinent to keeping the body operating properly and helping with strong bones. Eating well helps combat MS because nutrients that are being compromised by the actions of the disease are able to be reproduced by foods that provide them. There has been evidence that it may be more beneficial for someone with MS to eat foods that are low in saturated fats and rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids(6). Studies are also being performed to see if high salt intake in the diet may also have something to do with the high rate of MS cases and whether it triggers autoimmunity in the body(7). The writer of the Momentum article also learned that the more colorful foods she ate, the better off she was because they contained more nutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as macronutrients(5).



All in all, diet and nutrition is important in all aspects of life. However, when a person’s body is compromised by disease, it is even more important to eat right and exercise within limits. A physician is usually going to tell the person what they should and should not be doing. Studies have shown that there are benefits to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to combat the effects of MS and allow individuals with the disease to somewhat have an active and productive lifestyle. There is absolutely no cure for MS; therefore, doing things that may assist with combating the effects of the disease is very important for not only physical health, but mental health as well.

This paper is dedicated to my mom, Diane Van Hoose (Feb 2, 1950 - Sept 29, 2009).

Resources


1 Multiple Sclerosis. Mayo Clinic website. Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.myoclinic.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/DS00188. Accessed

2 Copaxone (Glatiramer Acetate). National Multiple Sclerosis Society Website. 2013. Availabe at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/treatments/medications/glatiramer-acetate/index.aspx. Accessed May 3, 2013.

3 Treatments. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Website. 2013. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/treatments/index.aspx. Accessed May 3, 2013.

4Exercise. Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Website. 2013. Available at: http://

5 Yarnell E. How I empowered myself with food. Momentum: The Magazine of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Summer 2013.

6 Nutrition and diet. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Website. 2013. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/healthyliving. Accessed

7 Anderson P. Salt may spur multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disease. Medscape Website. 2013. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/780480. Accessed May 3, 2013.


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