Natural treatments for multiple sclerosis focus on adopting a healthful lifestyle and diet. However, these factors will not cure or reverse the condition.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, progressive disease that causes the immune system to attack myelin. Myelin is a substance that coats the body’s nerves, so problems with this layer can make it difficult for nerves to communicate, leading to movement issues, pain, and trouble thinking clearly.
Keep reading to learn more about the best natural treatments for MS, and how to incorporate them into a treatment plan.
MS causes chronic inflammation, so diets that prevent or reverse inflammation may help.
Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting certain diets can treat the condition, plenty of scientific data shows that, in theory, certain foods may reduce inflammation or offer other benefits. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many people with MS also report their symptoms improving with dietary changes.
MS support groups advise consuming a low fat, high fiber diet, which is also healthful for the heart and general health, making it a suitable choice for most people.
However, there is little or no scientific evidence that certain specialized diets can improve symptoms of MS. For example, no data support a gluten-free diet. Only a single small study found that a paleo diet could help, but this research was observational and only found improvements in fatigue symptoms.
With this in mind, a person with MS may help ease some symptoms by adding the following to their diet:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as nuts and seeds, omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation. A handful of animal studies suggest omega-3 may help MS. For example, in one study, mice that ate a diet high in salmon had smaller lesions and less demyelination.
- Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich in fiber often contain high levels of antioxidants, offering many health benefits. Some research finds that people who eat a diet rich in these foods report fewer MS symptoms.
Some foods to eliminate or reduce include:
- High fat dairy: The long-term Nurses’ Health Study found an association between high dairy consumption in adolescence and later development of MS. Dairy may also contribute to certain kinds of inflammation, especially in high fat products.
- Salt: Limited evidence suggests that salt may promote certain types of inflammation, but the data is not conclusive. Some studies have found no association between salt intake and MS symptoms. Because high salt intake is harmful to health even in people without MS, consider reducing this substance in the diet.
- Saturated fat: Diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of numerous health conditions. They may also make MS symptoms worse or make it more likely that a person will develop MS. At least one study comparing dietary patterns by region found that areas with lower saturated fat diets had lower MS rates.
Some of the following supplements may help alleviate some symptoms of MS, although the results are mixed.
Ginkgo and fish oil
According to the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Health, research has found that ginkgo and fish oil do not improve symptoms of MS. Despite this, some alternative practitioners continue to prescribe these supplements.
Some studies, many with serious design flaws, suggest that echinacea may promote immune health and reduce the risk of the common cold and some other infections. People with MS sometimes struggle with infections. However, the condition causes the immune system to become too active, so echinacea might be harmful — although no studies have tested this idea.
St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort may improve symptoms of depression. However, there have been no studies testing its effects in people with MS. Additionally, the substance tends to interact with other medications, so it is important to consult a doctor before trying it.
Valerian root may help with MS-related fatigue. Some studies suggest it can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, but none have included people with MS. Those with the condition who feel tired or experience brain fog during the day may find that valerian root makes these symptoms worse.
Some studies suggest cranberries may prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the urinary tract. For people with MS who often experience urinary tract infections, cranberry supplements may be helpful, and they do not typically cause side effects.
Research indicates that cannabis may help with pain and spasticity, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve it for treating MS. While preliminary research shows some positive results, there is not enough data to conclude that cannabis offers consistent benefits.
Certain nutritional deficits may make symptoms of MS worse. People with this condition should ask a doctor about the following supplements, which may have some benefits in managing their symptoms:
- Vitamin D: People who do not get enough vitamin D may have worse symptoms of MS. A high vitamin D intake may also reduce the risk of developing the disease.
- Antioxidant vitamins: The antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E may slow inflammation. Vitamin C may also prevent urinary tract infections. However, high doses of vitamin A can be harmful in pregnancy, while high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of dying. Talk to a doctor before taking these supplements.
- Vitamin B12: Some studies suggest people with MS have lower levels of B12, a vitamin found in meat and animal products. Vegans and vegetarians may therefore be more vulnerable to B12 deficiency. However, there is no reason for people with normal levels of B12 to supplement. A doctor can perform a blood test to check for B12 deficiency.
- Calcium: There is little evidence that calcium deficiency causes MS, or that taking calcium will improve symptoms. However, the supplement can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which some people with MS have a higher risk of developing.
Exercise promotes heart health and may help a person with MS remain strong and active. Yoga may also help with fatigue and improve mood, although it will not help with mobility or thinking ability. All people, including those with MS, should take part in regular aerobic exercise and strength training.
Some studies suggest that acupuncture may improve symptoms of MS. However, a 2014 analysis of prior research argues that the flawed design of these studies means that it is impossible to draw any conclusions.
Another review from 2011 found that acupuncture may help with some types of pain, although that analysis did not look at MS pain.
Natural remedies can make the symptoms of MS more manageable and help reduce or prevent flare-ups.
People who wish to try natural MS treatments should keep a symptom diary so they can track the effects of various approaches.
Always talk to a doctor before changing diets or trying new supplements.