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. Problems with the myelin layer can make communication between nerves difficult, disrupting the central nervous system (CNS). This can lead 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.
While people experience mixed results, some of the following supplements may help alleviate some symptoms of MS.
Vitamins and mineral supplements
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:
- Vitamins A, C, and E: 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 with a doctor before taking these supplements.
- Vitamin B1: Vitamin B1, or thiamine, plays an important role in CNS health. Vitamin B1 intake may reduce fatigue and other MS symptoms.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 intake helps support cognitive function and myelin formation. However, research into direct links between vitamin B6 and MS is lacking.
- Vitamin B12: Some studies suggest people with MS have lower levels of B12, a vitamin common in meat and animal products.
- Vitamin D: People who do not get enough vitamin D may have worse MS symptoms. A high vitamin D intake
may also reducethe risk of developing the disease.
- 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.
Herbal and complementary supplements
Some people take alternative supplements to reduce their MS symptoms, including various herbs, natural oils, fruits, and roots.
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. Some people with MS are more susceptible to infections. However, MS causes the immune system to become overactive, so echinacea might be harmful — although no studies have tested this potential risk.
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 with a doctor before trying it.
Oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon, contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other healthful fats. Studies show that fish oil supplementations can reduce the rate of MS relapses, lessen inflammation, and improve the overall quality of life in people with MS.
Extracts of Gingko biloba may help
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 older studies highlight the potential benefit of turmeric in managing MS symptoms. Turmeric contains high levels of curcumin, a natural compound that may reduce neural inflammation.
Some studies suggest cranberries may prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the urinary tract. For people with MS, urinary tract infections can be problematic, so cranberries may be helpful, especially since they do not typically cause side effects.
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. While only anecdotal evidence, many people with MS report that their symptoms improve with dietary changes.
MS support groups advise consuming a low fat, high fiber diet, which is also good 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 or paleo diet.
With this in mind, a person with MS may help ease some of their symptoms by eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3-rich foods.
Some foods to eliminate or reduce
- High fat dairy: There is 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 inconclusive.
- Saturated fat: Diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of numerous health conditions. They may also make it more likely that a person will develop MS or that MS symptoms will worsen. At least one study comparing dietary patterns by region found that areas with lower saturated fat diets had lower MS rates.
Exercise promotes heart health and may help a person with MS remain strong and active. Everyone, including those with MS, should participate in regular aerobic exercise and strength training.
While there is no cure for MS, many people use complementary therapies to manage their MS symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and muscle stiffness.
According to a review of studies from 2001–2016, there is little research into the efficacy of these treatments, but people may find them helpful as a complement to their regular treatment plan. Complementary therapies include:
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 to track the effects of various approaches.
Always talk with a doctor before changing diets or trying new supplements.