Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological disease in the world.
But whether it’s you, a friend, or a family member getting the diagnosis – it is absolutely terrifying.
Even though it is the most common neurological disease, it presents differently in every person, the triggers remain largely unknown, and drug treatments work for some people and fail for others.
When you get an MS diagnosis, you can feel like your health (and your life) is suddenly out of your control.
But the truth is, even with a disease like multiple sclerosis, you can take back control.
Over the last decade, research on MS has expanded from simply looking for drug treatments to include gut health and the role it plays in not only developing MS but overcoming it as well.
Several studies have identified gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria in the digestive tract) as a major player in developing MS – something we wouldn’t have dreamed of just 10 years ago.
If you’ve been told that drugs are the only answer or find it hard to believe the gut has anything to do with your autoimmune condition, this article is for you.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Multiple sclerosis is also an autoimmune disease – in all autoimmune diseases, the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues.
In people with MS, the body’s autoimmune attack is on the outer protective cover of nerves, called the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is necessary for effective communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body. When the myelin is damaged, it can cause an altered or complete loss of basic body functions, impacting everything from mobility to vision.
The most common early symptoms of MS are:
- General fatigue
- Balance and coordination issues
- Tingling and numbness
- General state of confusion
- Muscle weakness and spasms
There are 2 main types of MS: primary and relapsing-remitting. In primary MS, symptoms gradually worsen from the onset of the disease. In relapsing-remitting MS, symptoms occur in “flares” or “relapses” and then periods of remission where symptoms go away.
Relapsing-remitting MS is the more common type, but most people with relapsing-remitting eventually progress to what is called secondary primary MS. In secondary primary MS, the periods of remission may lessen and symptoms get worse over time.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most widespread disabling neurological condition in the world. It is estimated that 2.5 million people are affected each year. People of northern European descent have the highest risk of developing MS and it affects nearly twice as many women as men.
People with MS are most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 and an early diagnosis is optimal when it comes to treating the condition.
How Multiple Sclerosis Is Diagnosed
No single test or symptom is sufficient enough to make an MS diagnosis, but rather a series of strategies and tests are used to put all the pieces together.
These strategies most often include a thorough look at the patient’s medical history, a neurological exam (balance and coordination tests) and an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, to detect any disease-related changes in the brain or spinal cord.
The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a protective fluid found around the brain, can also be examined. Those with MS typically have specific proteins within their CSF, which could be a positive indicator of the disease.
In order to make a clinical diagnosis, the physician must:
- Find evidence of damage in at least two separate areas of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves AND
- Find evidence that the damage occurred at least one month apart AND
- Rule out all other possible diagnoses
Ruling out other disorders is an important part of getting the diagnosis right when it comes to the complexity of Multiple Sclerosis. Getting proper blood testing is vital to help rule out other conditions known to cause similar symptoms, including Lyme disease, B12 deficiency, and thyroid dysfunction (to name a few).
But diagnosis of MS is just the first step – once you’ve been diagnosed, you and your practitioner must develop a plan for treatment.
Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmunity
Researchers and experts agree that Multiple Sclerosis is an inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) and occurs as a result of an abnormal immune response, otherwise known as an autoimmune response.
T-cells are a specific type of white blood cell and are an integral part of the immune system. Under normal circumstances, they help protect and defend against harm. In those with MS, they attack various components of the CNS and cause inflammation that ultimately leads to structural damage.
In people with MS, the immune system attacks the protective coating of nerves, called the myelin sheath. When the myelin sheath is damaged (called demyelination) communication between the brain and the rest of the body is slowed or even stopped altogether.
T-cells not only injure myelin, but can also secrete chemicals that damage nerve fibers (axons) and recruit more damaging immune cells to the site of inflammation. Researchers continue to study what exactly allows T-cells to be activated in this way, and have found that both environmental factors and genetics play a part.
What Role Do Genetics Play in Multiple Sclerosis?
And MS is no different.
Changes to the HLA-DRB1*15:01 allele provides the strongest genetic link to the development of MS. The HLA-DRB1 gene belongs to a larger complex called the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex, which is what allows the immune system to distinguish the body’s own proteins from those made by foreign invaders.
Each gene within the HLA complex plays an important role in the immune system, as it allows it to react properly to a wide variety of unfamiliar proteins. Experts therefore have reason to believe it contributes to the autoimmune cascade that ultimately damages the myelin sheath in MS.
However, not everyone who has changes in their HLA-DRB1 gene will develop MS. In order for a genetic predisposition for MS to become full-blown autoimmune disease, other contributing factors have to be present.
Contributing Factors to Autoimmunity
It’s the exposure to risk factors in those who are genetically susceptible to MS that helps decide whether the disease will actually be expressed or not.
The following factors can play an important role in the development of MS:
- Vitamin D3 – Studies show adequate levels of Vitamin D decrease the risk and have a protective effect against MS. Our most efficient source of Vitamin D comes from the sun. MS is much less common in countries close to the equator, which have more sunshine. We recommend the help of a trusted practitioner to guide you through proper testing and supplementation of Vitamin D.
- Viral and Bacterial Infections -The Summit Study is an epidemiological study which suggests exposure to an infectious agent may be involved in triggering MS. The two most studied infections linked to MS are Epstein-Barr and the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6). Bacterial strains cited include Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae, and Clostridium perfringens.
- Geography – Rates of MS have been shown to be higher further from the equator. In the southern states, the rate of MS is between 57 and 78 cases per 100,000 people. That number is twice as high in the northern states, suggesting that colder climates may play a role in the risk level and management of MS.
- Smoking – Compared to non-smokers, those who smoke are nearly two times more likely to develop MS and are more likely to progress to secondary progressive MS (a more severe type). First or second-hand smoke both contribute to delayed motor performance, increased relapse frequency and an overall increased risk of disability.
- Stress – This study confirms stress is a big contributor to a flare or a relapse of MS. 121 patients with active MS were split into 2 groups – one received stress management therapy for 24 weeks and the other group did not. Patients in both groups received 6 MRI scans in a 48-week period, including 1 baseline at the beginning of the study. Results showed that 76.8% of those in the therapy group did not develop new lesions, as compared to 54.7% in the control group.
- Other Autoimmune conditions – Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is linked to an increased risk of MS. A recent study of mice with MS showed chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, a suppressed amount of regulatory T-cells, and an increased amount of inflammatory T-cells – all of which are hallmark signs of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease (the two most common types of IBD).
The great thing about the above factors is that many are in our control and can be used to better manage the symptoms of MS. However, many medical doctors fail to recognize their role and opt for conventional medicine.
Conventional Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Currently, there are 15 FDA-approved prescription drugs for the long-term management of MS. Many are given as an injection into the skin and are designed to decrease or stop the immune attack on myelin by altering the way these immune cells work.
Medications to treat MS can cause severe side effects.
The most common side effects of MS medications are:
- Possible brain infections*
- Liver problems*
- Nerve damage*
- Mood disorders*
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
(*) Warrants follow up tests to monitor severity
While these medications can be an important tool in treating MS, they don’t address one important question: why are the immune cells being activated to cause damage to the myelin sheath?
The Multiple Sclerosis – Leaky Gut Connection
So, what causes an autoimmune reaction in the first place?
Perhaps one of the largest underlying causes of autoimmunity is a leaky gut – the term used to describe a damaged gut wall that ultimately allows large undigested food molecules, toxins, microbes, and other unwanted substances to pass through into the bloodstream.
When these molecules pass through the gut and into the bloodstream, the immune system is activated.
But isn’t that what our immune system is supposed to do – protect us from foreign invaders?
Yes… however, it isn’t equipped to perform on the repetitive basis a leaky gut demands it to.
And this is where the problem begins and the answer to our question above lies.
Research shows us that repetitive activation of the immune system via a leaky gut contributes to the process of autoimmunity.
“Swedish researchers using an experimental rodent model for multiple sclerosis have now confirmed that immune activation as a consequence of increased intestinal permeability may play a fundamental role in multiple sclerosis.” – Dr. David Perlmutter, Author of Grain Brain
While we can’t directly control our immune system, we can help prevent it from being overactivated by leaky gut. The secret is getting and keeping a healthy gut.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Immune System
Leaky gut places an unrelenting demand on the immune system. This is especially dangerous for those battling an autoimmune condition with an immune system already working overtime.
Many researchers have focused on the leaky gut – autoimmune connection and have found some promising results.
A recent study focused on probiotics and their potential effect on MS. Experimental mice were given an oral dose of a mixture of probiotic Lactobacillus species. This treatment was found to have a positive effect on regulatory T-cells (the good guys that help suppress chronic inflammation) and a reduction in the number of inflammatory cells.
Another study in 2016 showed MS patients, when compared to healthy controls, have a decreased amount of the anti-inflammatory producing microbes Erysipelotrichaceae and Veillonellaceae. Both members of the Firmicute family of bacteria, Veillonellaceae are beneficial and have been shown to induce regulatory T-cells, while Erysipelotrichaceae have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Experts are starting to recognize the power of overcoming dysbiosis when it comes to MS and one researcher puts it this way:
“Correcting the dysbiosis and altered gut microbiota might deserve consideration as a potential strategy for the prevention and treatment of MS.” – Sachiko Miyake, PLOS Peer Reviewed Scientific Journal
If you’re unsure about whether you have a leaky gut, simply want to learn more about what it is, or would like to know how to heal it – you’re in the right place.
Effective and Natural Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
His findings have revealed that prevention and reversal of autoimmune disease is possible.
Fasano presents the idea that in order for an autoimmune condition to develop, 3 conditions must all exist together:
- A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity (i.e. the HLA-DRB1*15:01 in MS)
- An exposure to the environmental trigger (i.e. Vitamin D Deficiency)
- Increased intestinal permeability (a.k.a. Leaky Gut Syndrome)
It may be unsettling to hear that a leaky gut plays such a big role in the development of autoimmunity… but we have good news. It’s one factor that’s fully in our control and, beyond that, it can be healed with the right plan.
Dietary changes and the right supplements can help cool inflammation and improve the symptoms of MS without the added side effects.
Some of the most effective supplements for fighting MS include:
- Vitamin D – Several studies show Vitamin D is effective in lowering specific inflammatory T-cells. This hormone is also a key player in healing a leaky gut, as it helps support the tight junctions of our gut.
- Curcumin – Curcumin is derived from the turmeric plant and has been used to drive away disease for centuries. It has neuroprotective properties, which help protect against nerve deterioration by defending the axons of nerves (responsible for sending messages throughout the body).
- Glutathione – Also referred to as the master antioxidant in the body, glutathione has the potential to slow brain deterioration. Oxidative stress is strongly implicated in the inflammatory and neurodegenerative process of MS and glutathione helps detoxify these free radicals.
- CoQ10 – This antioxidant works to address the mitochondrial deficits that may underlie neurological impairments. A recent double-blind placebo controlled trial examined the effect of high-dose CoQ10 for MS patients and found significant improvements in depression and fatigue.
Supplements, when used as part of a multifaceted approach, aren’t only helpful for symptom management, but they also address many of the underlying mechanisms of MS.
How to Turn Off Autoimmune Disease
Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, stated “all disease begins in the gut,” and Fasano’s theory supports this wisdom. Some 2,000 years later, Hippocrates’ statement is still important wisdom and the power of the human microbiome simply cannot be denied.
As ancient and current wisdom suggests, the best place to start is the gut. And we’re here to help you do just that.
Jordan and Steve hosted a free webinar called, “How to Turn Off Your Autoimmunity and Restore a Healthy Immune System.”
It’s completely free, and we walk you through how to address the health of your gut so that your immune system can stop attacking itself.
The topic of autoimmunity is complicated and the amount of information out there can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve done the work for you and are grateful to support you on this journey.
– Lori Jo