Multiple Sclerosis - Successful Nutritional Approaches
“There is no condition....in which the difference between orthodox medicine and Complementary Medicine is so vast, or the superiority of the alternative approaches so patently obvious.”
Robert C Atkins MD
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. It is generally accepted to be an autoimmune disorder. The fatty sheath (myelin) which surrounds, insulates and protects the nerve fibres, comes under attack from white blood cells that have breached the blood-brain barrier, causing nerve signals to malfunction. This demyelination produces many primary symptoms such as numbness, tremor, loss of balance, paralysis, bladder and bowel problems, loss of vision. Secondary symptoms may arise out of these such as urinary tract infections, decreased bone density, posture problems etc. Psychological, social and vocational difficulties will also arise. Orthodox medicine can offer various drugs - immunosuppressive, anticonvulsive, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications - but they cannot stop its progression.
MS has a genetic component, is more prevalent among women than men, and is more common among Caucasians, especially those with North European connections. But it needs something to set it off. This could be immunological, environmental, or viral. It is possible that an environmental component could affect the body’s immune system and make it more susceptible to viral attack. Could diet be the trigger, setting it off in genetically susceptible people? And if so, could a programme of diet and nutritional supplements reverse the symptoms and bring about an improvement in the condition? The above quote was written by Dr Robert C Atkins. He clearly thinks so. And so does Professor Roger MacDougall who was crippled with this disorder but overcame it completely by changing his diet. But we shall return to them later. Firstly let’s look at the dietary hypothesis by looking at the epidemiological evidence.
Strong Evidence For A Dietary Trigger
MS is prevalent in certain areas of the world, and rare in other parts. Even within countries there can be a wide variation. Evidence from identical twins show that 60% of those who are genetically susceptible will contract MS in high risk areas, but only 10% will do so in low risk areas. High risk geographical areas are temperate regions above 40° latitude - Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Here it will occur at approximately twice the rate as those who live below this altitude. In the USA, those living in the warmer climate below 37° latitude, have an occurrence of 62.5 per 100,000 population. For those who live above this latitude, incidence doubles to 125.
Statistics on people who move to a new country show that their risk of contracting MS decreases on moving to a low risk area or increases if the move is to a high risk area, provided the move occurred before age 15. Children born in the new country have the same risk as the indigenous population. All this suggests the environmental factor comes into play in childhood.
Yet only a quarter of identical twins both have MS. This suggests the environmental factor comes into play as adults, when they start to lead separate lives.
There are differences in incidence within countries where latitude isn’t relevant. For instance, in Norway, there are 5 times as many cases in inland farming areas as there are in coastal fishing areas. Newfoundlanders have a much lower incidence than those living in the Canadian prairies. Japanese living in Hawaii have three times the incidence of Japan. Yet whites brought up in Hawaii have only a third as many cases as those brought up in California. A strange finding.
A widely quoted study is that of the Faroe Islands. They were occupied by several thousand British troops during the second world war. The incidence of MS increased substantially after this, especially in those living in areas near the military bases.
Only Diet Fits The Data
Many factors have been proposed to explain what causes or triggers MS. The indigenous factors include sunlight, altitude, climate and radiation. But this cannot explain the Faroe Islands data which strongly suggests the disease is transportable. If it wasn’t for this data a strong case could be made for vitamin D from sunlight as being the key environmental factor. Of course it still could be.
A virus or other infection has been proposed. Yet none has ever been found. MS has never been transmitted to a spouse or stepchild. And it has never been passed on via a blood transfusion. It doesn’t explain why the Japanese have three times the rate of MS in Hawaii as in Japan. If anything the prevalence of common infections is higher in Japan.
What about heavy metals, industrial pollution and sanitation? This would not explain why the Japanese in relatively polluted Japan have a third as much as in relatively less polluted Hawaii. MS in the Canadian Prairies is double that of highly industrialised southern Ontario.
The only factor that fits in with the epidemiological data is diet. It would explain why all genetically prone people don’t get it. It helps to explain the contradictory evidence of when the environmental factor occurs. Adults who emigrate tend to maintain their native diet. Children integrate more and are likely to take up at least some of the diet of their new country. So under 15 immigrant children would be at a greater risk of contracting the disease in later life than their parents. Dietary, digestive system and food intolerance factors tend to occur in adulthood. Hence the data on identical twins suggesting the environmental factor occurring as adults.
The diets of those in the high prevalence areas tend to be high in dairy, cereal grains and saturated fat (and low in fish). This correlation has been observed in various studies. MS occurs in cooler, temperate areas. It is here that these foods are most often eaten. This could explain the data on latitude.
The fact that significant differences occur within some countries could be explained by the fact that those living near coastal areas are more likely to eat fish and less dairy than in inland farming areas. Newfoundlanders for instance, eat far more fish and less dairy than landlocked prairie dwellers.
The data from Hawaii can also be explained by diet. Japanese-Hawaiians eat more saturated fat, dairy and less fish than in Japan. Hence their increased risk. White-Hawaiians eat less of these foods than on mainland USA, hence their decreased risk.
What about the strange incidence of MS on the Faroe Islands? Isn’t it likely the British brought their own foods with them? Those living and working near the bases would have probably eaten this new diet, at least in part. It would then have become part of the standard diet on the islands.
Finally the increased prevalence of the disease over the last 100 years is compatible with the kind of dietary changes seen in the West that seem to make susceptible people more likely to contract the disease.
Epidemiological evidence does not prove anything, but it does offer a reasonable working hypothesis. If diet is the environmental trigger, what can the mechanism be?
How Diet Triggers MS
If MS is an autoimmune disease, and the source of activation is outside the central nervous system as is generally believed, then it is presumably activated by a foreign protein. This activation is probably through a process called molecular mimicry whereby part of the infectious agent’s molecular structure is similar to a fragment of the myelin protein molecule. When the immune system is activated against the infection, it also attacks the myelin. Parts of the brain are believed capable of evoking immune reactions. And MS patients allow immune components to pass the blood-brain barrier. This is the primary disease process. This does not happen in healthy people.
According to the dietary hypothesis, it probably begins in childhood with an infectious disease (possibly Epstein-Barr Virus or HHV-6). Autoimmune reactions against tissues in the central nervous system are suppressed at this stage so no demyelination takes place. However these autoimmune (memory T helper) cells remain dormant and a potential time bomb.
Over time gut permeability (and potentially the permeability of the blood-brain barrier) increases because of food allergies, lectins, certain drugs, alcohol or candida. The leaky gut is infiltrated by foreign proteins. Antigens spark an autoimmune response through molecular mimicry. The time bomb is activated. At first the immune system is strong enough to prevent much damage. The disease waxes and wanes. But eventually it becomes progressive.
Essentially, the disease process comes about through a combination of genetic predisposition, and dietary/environmental allergies in susceptible people, allowing permeability of the blood-brain barrier and the activation of dormant autoimmune cells.
If this interpretation is correct, nutritional changes should make a difference. And indeed there is much anecdotal evidence that nutrition has profound effects and is capable of slowing, halting or even reversing the course of the disease. As far back as 1954 a scientific paper described 17 case histories where the avoidance of food and other allergic substances alleviated symptoms. When reintroduced, symptoms returned.
Roger MacDougall was diagnosed with MS in 1953. Within a few years he was confined to a wheelchair, unable to use his fingers and was virtually blind. He did “what a combination of history, observation and common sense dictated” he should do. He went on a strict diet based on the hunter-gatherer concept, sometimes referred to as the Paleolithic diet. It avoids gluten and dairy, is low in sugar, low in saturated fat, and high in unsaturated fat. It uses “live” foods whenever possible. He also had regular allergy tests, and removed all offending foods. He also took nutritional supplements as appropriate. When he removed gluten, cow’s milk and sugar, he stopped deteriorating. But it was more than four years before he noticed the first significant improvement. Clearly a very determined man. He continued to improve, eventually returning to normal life.
He was examined by the same neurologist he had seen 22 years previously who found his reflexes, muscle control, gait and movements to be normal. The only sign he ever had the disease was a slight eye tremor, undetectable by the patient. MacDougall lived well into his eighties, symptom free. He never claimed he’d been cured. He called it a self-induced remission. He emphasised that “a diet must be tailor-made to suit a specific metabolism.”
Dr. Swank’s Successful Diet
Swank first published his epidemiological research linking saturated fat intake and MS in the Norwegian population in 1952. He followed this up with a very long study published in 1988. Between 1949 and 1984, 150 MS patients consumed low-fat diets. On daily fat consumption of <20g (average 17g), 31% died and deterioration was slight. Those consuming >20g (average of either 25 or 41g) were attended by serious disability with a death rate of 79% and 81% respectively.
This has been borne out by recent findings. An Italian animal study concluded that MS patients should reduce animal fat and increase polyunsaturated fats. A Canadian study comparing diets of MS patients with matched controls concluded that there is a protective role for components found in fruits, vegetables and grains with increased risk for high energy and animal foods.
The 8 Mini-Food Plan
Dr Kaslow describes the results of using electro-acupuncture as “very encouraging and dramatic”. Results improved further with dietary modification. He found initially that MS patients couldn’t tolerate certain foods. Common offenders being red meat, sugar, fruits, flour products, dairy and some vegetables. But he found some of these could be tolerated in small portions. Even foods that were tolerated could be a problem if eaten in too large a quantity. From these findings he developed the eight mini-food plan. Patients can eat between 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons of up to 8 items at any meal. Meals must be at least 3 hours apart. He also recommends supplements, particularly B vitamins. “We have seen many people who have had the typical fluctuating symptoms for years. After 6 months on this program many of these individuals are in what we would call pretty nearly a total remission.”
The Mercury Connection
According to Dr. Patrick Kingsley, who has treated over 2000 MS patients, the main dietary offenders are milk products, tannin, caffeine, brewer’s and baker’s yeast, citrus, wheat, gluten, potatoes, tomatoes and red muscle meat. Many cannot tolerate any animal fat. While evening primrose oil is often helpful, it occasionally makes patients worse. Candida may be involved “and may indeed be the major precipitating factor to the onset of MS.”
Kingsley believes that mercury is the underlying cause in just about everybody. A Swedish study found MS patients have on average 7½ times higher levels in their spinal fluid than controls with equal numbers of amalgam fillings. A German study found significantly higher mercury in the blood of 64 MS patients compared to controls. 7 showed “noxious” levels. Amalgam needs to be replaced and mercury chelated out of the body.
“The Illness Will Reverse Itself”
Like Dr. Kingsley, Dr Atkins, who has treated 5000 patients, believes MS is caused by the accumulation of toxic minerals, particularly mercury. He states boldly: “Based on hundreds of successful clinical cases, we believe that the illness will reverse itself once the cause has been identified and removed.”
Treatment is necessarily complex because so many processes are at work. Blood sugar instability, food allergies and intolerances, systemic candida infection, nutritional deficiencies, imbalances in fat metabolism and other environmental factors. All need to be addressed. Cow’s milk and gluten are common culprits. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, processed food, and sources of trans-fatty acids are forbidden.
Calcium AEP To The Rescue
Dr. Atkins’ principle nutritional remedy is calcium AEP or EAP (colamine phosphate or vitamin Mi[membrane integrity factor]). It was pioneered in Europe by Dr. Hans Nieper in the treatment of autoimmune disorders. It is widely distributed throughout the body but its function is unknown. Dr. Nieper considered it to be an important transporter of minerals in the body, taking minerals into cell membranes, protecting them, and allowing other wanted nutrients and biochemicals to enter.
Atkins describes this substance as “tragically underused” and says it works for the majority of people who try it. Unfortunately, the FDA disapprove of it and so it is not readily available in intravenous form. It is available as an oral supplement but is not considered effective by this route.
Colamine phosphate appears to be particularly effective in the early stages of the disease. He states that it provides significant relief, if not a complete remission. People are more co-ordinated, feel less limb numbness, experience fewer muscle spasms, have a steadier walking gait, better balance, more strength, improved bladder function, and often have a dramatic increase in energy.
Of Nieper’s 151 American patients, 63% reported their condition as improved, 19% said their condition had stabilised, with only 3% reporting a deterioration.
Other nutrients given are folate 5-10mg, Methylcobalamin 60mg, vitamin D3 800-1600 IU, fish oil, borage oil, flax seed oil 2400mg each, inositol 800-1600mg, lecithin granules 2-3 tbsp, methionine 1000-2000mg.
Methionine is considered important in helping to stabilise myelin. Recent research suggests “MS patients are particularly prone to B12 deficiency”. The findings of a 1997 paper was that dietary fatty acids “can be positively involved in the control of central nervous system myelogenesis.” Another study found that D3 could prevent the equivalent of MS in mice. It proposed that early intervention with D3 might prevent genetically susceptible people from developing MS.
Atkins also uses other nutrients including magnesium, zinc, manganese, aminos, vitamin C, octacosanol, phosphatidyl serine and CoQ10. He also uses pancreatic enzymes (see Enzyme Digest No. 49).
Other Promising Areas
Some cases have been arrested using homoeopathic dilutions of human herpes virus 6, different herpes and other viruses. Dr. Burgstiner arrested 10 cases with thymic and other glandular tissue. Jonathan Wright MD believes a transdermal patch containing histamine called Procarin offers hope for MS patients.
This article was first published in Enzyme Digest no. 53 Summer 2001Any health and medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional.