Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progression, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any individual cannot be predicted, but the NMSS state that advances in research and treatment are encouraging towards eradicating the disease.
Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 50 with at least two times more women than men being afflicted. Worldwide MS affects more than 2.3 million people.
Mid-April, a study was released noting that a medication commonly used to prevent seizures in epilepsy could protect nerves in the eye and also has the potential to slow the advent of disability in people with MS.
Apparently, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, nerve fibers or axons are thought to be damaged in MS partly because they become flooded with toxic levels of sodium from surrounding tissue.
This is believed to be a consequence of inflammation which is the hallmark of MS relapses. Phenytoin, an oral therapy that has been used widely to treat epilepsy was used for the study because it blocks sodium channels which are tiny pores that allow the passage of sodium into nerve axons.
The study was carried out at University College in London. Patients with optic neuritis were selected for the study because optic neuritis involves inflammation of the nerves carrying information between the eye and the brain and is often an early sign of MS.
The results were, that on average, the patients who received the drug phenytoin had 30% less damage to the nerve fibers than those who received a placebo. Researchers are hopeful that this or similar neuro-protective approaches have the potential to slow the debilitating progression of MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society made an investment in the area of neuro-protection as an approach to prevent progressive disability in people with MS, but it is also interesting that it involved re-purposing a therapy already in place which could cut years of development time and speed the use of medicines already on the market.
In France, people with primary or secondary progressive MS were given experimental concentrated Biotin (a B vitamin) or a placebo for 48 weeks.
The results demonstrated that 12.6% of those given the Biotin concentrate showed improvement in a timed walk and that there were no serious side effects of therapy. More research is being conducted to verify the results.
Other therapies currently under investigation use mesenchymal stem cells taken from patients’ own blood. The idea is to inhibit immune mechanisms and to augment natural tissue repair.
This research was carried out at Cleveland Clinic and has suggested that the cells may have stimulated repair, although more research is necessary to confirm the findings.
At Tisch MS Research Center of New York, studies are under way to use stem cells from the bone marrow and inject them into the spinal fluid.
This work dovetails with the observation of other researchers that treatments for progressive MS need to penetrate the central nervous system in order to work effectively.
Other areas of research include lifestyle treatments. The NMSS states that more research is need to see if increased salt in the diet contributes to MS.
Studies have shown that a diet low in saturated fat and high in antioxidants can help MS patients lessen their fatigue.
Exercise, especially balancing exercises are important for MS patients to help regain their balance and postural control. Researchers at Mount Sinai examined the relationship between obesity and MS disease activity. The researchers found that the odds were 8 times greater of having increased disability in those MS patients who were obese. They also noted that the obese patients were more likely to develop new brain lesions.
Finally, previous studies have suggested that coffee may be protective against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases however, there is no evidence that it is protective against MS. Smoking has been linked to higher risk or MS and to making MS more progressive. Smoke increases inflammation and oxidative stress. Live well to stay well.
Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser. She be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (808) 212-1451, www.janerileyfitness.com