Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable central nervous system disease. You never know when an episode of eye pain, weakness, tingling, or dizziness is going to occur. You also don’t know how long the attack is going to last for. These symptoms can also worsen over time or not. We are going to discuss some of the common symptoms and treatments of MS. We are also going to go over some adjunct therapies that have been shown to be effective.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
The consensus among researchers is that MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath of axons in the central nervous system (CNS). Myelin is a fatty covering for nerves in the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (everything outside of the brain and spinal cord, ie. sciatic nerve) nervous systems. The myelin allows the nerves to transmit nerve signals as fast and efficiently as possible. When the nerves lose this fatty layer, they cannot properly conduct nerve impulses anymore. This improper communication of the nerves (technically called neurons in the central nervous system) is what leads to the symptoms of MS.
A little breakdown: autoimmune disease is a condition where your body’s immune system develops antibodies against itself. The immune system can no longer differentiate what is foreign to the body and what is not. Depending on the system the immune system attacks, that’s the type of autoimmune disease that develops.
- MS – autoimmune attack against the myelin sheath of neurons
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – autoimmune attack against the thyroid gland
- Type 1 Diabetes – autoimmune attack against beta cells of pancreas
So the question is why does the immune system attack its own nerve cells, which are obviously not foreign invaders like a virus? This cause is not fully understood but we are beginning to learn more and more about what could set these events into motion. According to Alessio Fasano, a world-renowned gastroenterologist and expert in autoimmunity, there are three factors (3-legged stool model) needed for an autoimmune disease to become apparent in humans:
- Genetic Predisposition: There are genes that certain people have that predispose them to certain diseases
- Certain Trigger: There must be a specific antigen (anything that causes your immune system to create antibodies against it, usually a protein) that the immune system recognizes as a threat (real or not), that sets off the cascade of over-activation. For example, in the case of celiac disease, the trigger is gluten. However, in the vast majority of autoimmune diseases the exact trigger remains unknown.
- Leaky Gut (intestinal permeability): Normally the cells of the intestines are very tightly knit together and only allow properly digested particles to enter the bloodstream. Certain substances can cause a disruption in the binding of the cells that leads to widening of the junctions between the cells. This allows larger particles, such as proteins, bacteria or food particles, to make their way through these widened junctions. Your immune system recognizes these larger particles as foreign and mounts an immune response against these substances. This is how leaky gut can contribute to autoimmunity. Leaky gut can be caused by chronic stress, food sensitivities and chronic infections or other insults.
We obviously do not have any control over our genetic makeup. Some triggers we do have control over (ie. dietary triggers) and others we don’t (ie. environmental toxins). And leaky gut is generally caused by us and our crazy, stressed out lifestyle and the standard American Diet (SAD). However, with the study of epigenetics, we are learning that we do have some control over our genes and which of these genes are turned on or off depending on its environmental influences. We’ll get more into that another time. If you’re interested you can learn more now here and here.
If you have MS then you are likely on a medication that is geared towards modifying the disease course and managing symptoms. Medications such as Rebif, Tysabri and Tecfidera have allowed many more people who have MS to enjoy much longer and fuller lives. Some of you may have gone through physical therapy (PT) to strengthen muscles and maybe even work on balance.
In our office, our goal is to offer care that compliments the medical treatment you are currently receiving. We work on your nervous system to keep the nerve pathways as strong as possible. We do this through multiple receptor-based exercises (using light, sound, balance, touch, sight) in different combinations and making sure we stimulate those nerve pathways enough to generate long term potentiation. Long term potentiation is basically neuroplasticity. It strengthens the connection between two neurons in the brain. This strengthens that nerve pathway. This is a crucial step in the management of any neurological disease, including MS.
The other aspect of treatment we work on is diet. This is aspect of treatment is just as important as any other treatment you are currently using. Terry Wahls is a medical physician who was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and has used diet and drug therapy to regain her health. We incorporate much of her work into the dietary aspect of treatment we recommend.
If you do have MS and are looking for ways to further improve your health, please give our office a call. We look forward to meeting you.