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Symptoms and Signs of Managing MS

Doctor's Notes on Managing Symptoms of MS with Diet, Exercise, Drugs, and Alternative Therapies

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated inflammatory process that affects the body's central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Nerves are surrounded by a myelin sheath that insulates and protects them from damage, and that also allows nerve signals get from the brain or spinal cord to the a body part. In MS, the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath, causing messages within the CNS to be altered or stopped completely. 

Symptoms of MS, and even the drugs used to treat the disease can impact a patient's mobility, energy level, eating habits, and feelings, and can affect a persons' overall well-being. Symptoms of MS include decreased muscle strength, fatigue, visual changes, decreased energy levels and endurance, decreased bladder and bowel control, depression, loss of bone mass, pain, numbness or tingling, anxiety, facial pain, spinning sensation (vertigo), hearing loss, painful muscle spasms, weakness in one or more of the arms or legs, electrical-type pain sensations, constipation, and urinary retention.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/21/2019

Managing Symptoms of MS with Diet, Exercise, Drugs, and Alternative Therapies Symptoms

Some people with MS explore alternative forms of therapy and treatments, including many who are already taking drugs for the disease. Because most people who have the disease should be using prescription medication under the supervision of their doctor or health care professional, alternative therapies usually are used as complementary therapies, meaning that these therapies complement the traditional medical therapy prescribed by your doctor or health care professional.

Some people report that acupuncture may help reduce the severity of their multiple sclerosis symptoms, for example:

Although no definitive studies exist showing that vitamin supplements help MS symptoms, their use is not contraindicated unless they are taken in excess. Before taking any vitamin supplement, however, be sure to check with the doctor or health care professional. Certain supplements are not recommended for people with the disease. For example, a supplement that is supposed to boost immune function may be dangerous for people with MS because an overactive immune system is likely the cause of symptoms in the disease. A brief overview of some supplements that may, in theory, be beneficial include:

  • Vitamin D: It has been questioned if multiple sclerosis is more prevalent in the most northern latitudes because of decreased exposure to sunlight, which is necessary for the body's production of vitamin D. This vitamin may help maintain bone density. Some people with multiple sclerosis have low bone density as a side effect of corticosteroid treatment and are at an increased risk for osteoporosis; vitamin D helps strengthen bones.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E could, in theory, help decrease the damage caused by substances called oxidants that may be involved in the multiple sclerosis disease process.
  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A is necessary for vision, and people with multiple sclerosis often experience visual problems. Intake of vitamin A likely helps people with multiple sclerosis that also have a vitamin A deficiency.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Because people with multiple sclerosis who also have bladder problems tend to have an increased risk of UTIs, vitamin C may be beneficial.
  • Ginkgo biloba: This herb claims to boost memory, but it may also cause clotting problems. Ginkgo biloba should be used in caution or not at all if the patient with MS is also taking aspirin-containing drugs or other blood thinners.
  • Vitamin B-12: Vitamin B-12 is required for the proper function of the nervous system and the production of red blood cells. People with B-12 deficiency may have signs and symptoms that may resemble multiple sclerosis. For people with multiple sclerosis who do not have a low B-12 level, no strong evidence exists that shows taking vitamin B-12 supplements is beneficial.

Although no definitive studies exist showing that vitamin supplements help MS symptoms, their use is not contraindicated unless they are taken in excess. Before taking any vitamin supplement, however, be sure to check with the doctor or health care professional. Certain supplements are not recommended for people with the disease. For example, a supplement that is supposed to boost immune function may be dangerous for people with MS because an overactive immune system is likely the cause of symptoms in the disease. A brief overview of some supplements that may, in theory, be beneficial include:

  • Vitamin D: It has been questioned if multiple sclerosis is more prevalent in the most northern latitudes because of decreased exposure to sunlight, which is necessary for the body's production of vitamin D. This vitamin may help maintain bone density. Some people with multiple sclerosis have low bone density as a side effect of corticosteroid treatment and are at an increased risk for osteoporosis; vitamin D helps strengthen bones.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E could, in theory, help decrease the damage caused by substances called oxidants that may be involved in the multiple sclerosis disease process.
  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A is necessary for vision, and people with multiple sclerosis often experience visual problems. Intake of vitamin A likely helps people with multiple sclerosis that also have a vitamin A deficiency.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Because people with multiple sclerosis who also have bladder problems tend to have an increased risk of UTIs, vitamin C may be beneficial.
  • Ginkgo biloba: This herb claims to boost memory, but it may also cause clotting problems. Ginkgo biloba should be used in caution or not at all if the patient with MS is also taking aspirin-containing drugs or other blood thinners.
  • Vitamin B-12: Vitamin B-12 is required for the proper function of the nervous system and the production of red blood cells. People with B-12 deficiency may have signs and symptoms that may resemble multiple sclerosis. For people with multiple sclerosis who do not have a low B-12 level, no strong evidence exists that shows taking vitamin B-12 supplements is beneficial.

What You Should Know About Multiple Sclerosis Slideshow

What You Should Know About Multiple Sclerosis Slideshow

Former talk show host Williams told Oprah Winfrey that pain has been a challenge since his MS diagnosis in 1999. He's learned how to distract himself and "keep it in a box." He currently puts much of his focus on raising awareness about the disease through the Montel Williams MS Foundation.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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