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What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Understanding your condition

Multiple sclerosis affects around 2.5 million people worldwide and is diagnosed in more women than men, commonly aged between 20 and 50.  It is a progressive autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the protective coating (called myelin) around nerve cells. This slows the communication between brain and body so that the body is unable to react in time. When the myelin is badly damaged, people with MS can have altered sensations in the body, losing control of vision, muscles, and balance.

young woman with multiple sclerosis neurological assessment
older woman sitting with chin resting on hand gazing out the window smiling

Managing multiple sclerosis naturally

Natural treatments for MS are available and effective. Our functional medicine multiple sclerosis specialists investigate the underlying triggers, and treat with evidence based natural medicines, nutritional supplementation, diet and lifestyle medicine.

This holistic natural MS treatment is tailored for each person in a collaborative, cutting edge healthcare program that helps people with MS live happy, healthy lives.

Before
After
Before
After

MS symptoms

The nervous system is a series of networks throughout the body that transmits communications from the brain to all organs, tissues, and muscles. The immune system in MS damages the myelin sheath that covers nerves anywhere in the body, causing symptoms that vary from person to person, day to day, fluctuating in severity and over time. This can make it hard to understand, live with, and diagnose MS.

Commonly, the first signs of MS include extreme fatigue, stumbling, tingling and altered sensations, eyesight problems and slowed thinking. Early treatment can help slow progression, and may even facilitate remission.

Symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety and depression, mood changes
  • Ataxia - a lack of coordination of the muscles, appearing as speech problems, clumsiness, unsteady walking and balance issues, impaired limb and eye movement or dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Reduced strength
  • Double vision and sensory issues
  • Bladder and bowel control problems, incontinence
  • Memory, cognition and judgement difficulty
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Heat sensitivity, which can exacerbate other symptoms
  • Pain, which can vary considerably from one person to another
  • Sensory dysfunction - numbness, tingling, pins and needles, itching, burning, prickling, crawling, or tightness can occur in any part of the body, although usually trunk, arms, legs or face and sometimes genitals
  • Sexual dysfunction and libido
  • Spasms, tremors, involuntary jerking / kicking movements
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), chewing, controlling food in the mouth and dribbling

There are 3 main types of MS:

  • RRMS relapsing remitting - the mildest form, approx. 85% of people diagnosed will have this form
  • SPMS secondary progressive - can develop later in some people with RRMS, where disability worsens and may or may not have relapses
  • PPMS primary progressive - 10-15% approx. of people will have PPMS, characterised by gradually worsening symptoms and few or no remissions or relapses

What causes MS?

As with all autoimmune diseases, the precise cause is not clear, however, research has confirmed that a complex interplay between genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers (epigenetics) is implicated in autoimmune conditions. Triggers can also include viruses and other infectious agents, and it is common to find gastrointestinal disturbances such as intestinal hyperpermeability, and gut flora dysbiosis in people who develop MS.

A large 2022 study revealed the leading trigger of MS to be the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) commonly known as glandular fever, or mononucleosis, which after infection resides permanently in immune B cells in a dormant state and can be reactivated with little or no symptoms.

Other triggers / risk factors for developing MS are:

  • Genetic predisposition / family history
  • Genetic MTHFR polymorphism which can impair methylation (a process that is essential to healthy detoxification)
  • Being female
  • Aged between 20 - 40 years
  • Smoking
  • Chronic stress / trauma including adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Gluten and dairy consumption
  • Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury (e.g. in dental fillings and fish), toxins, chemicals such as organic solvents
  • Mycotoxins from mould exposure
  • Vitamin D deficiency - as a selective immune system regulator, Vitamin D inhibits autoimmune disease
  • Being born and living a minimum of 15 years in northern latitudes, or of Scandinavian, North American or Northern European ancestry (likely due to reduced exposure to sunlight for Vitamin D3 production)
  • Viruses and infectious agents, such as EBV, measles, herpes and chicken pox
  • Bacterial infections such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Digestive disorders, such as intestinal hyperpermeability (aka leaky gut), poor gastric secretions, SIBO, fungal infections such as Candida albicans
  • Gut microbiome dysbiosis, in particular, the presence of C. perfringens

What causes eczema?

There isn’t one single cause of eczema but a range of potential contributing factors that are unique to each person. These include:

Genetics

Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.

Hormones

Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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How is MS diagnosed?

Multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be difficult, as no single test can tell positively if you have MS or not, and early symptoms can mimic other conditions. Often people see many practitioners, GPs, optometrists etc. who may suspect MS but cannot make a diagnosis.

A 2019 study suggests that up to 25% of people are incorrectly diagnosed with MS, with symptoms similar to B12 or copper deficiencies, some genetic conditions, and other diseases of the myelin sheath and structural abnormalities.

The McDonald criteria is a diagnostic guide used by clinicians to clarify the likelihood of a patient having MS, and rule out conditions with similar symptoms. It requires 2 or more clinical attacks / relapses along with 2 or more lesions identified by MRI in the spinal cord or brain.

MS tests may include:

  • Neurological examination checking movement, vision, balance, reflexes and the function of other senses such as touch
  • The visual evoked potentials (VEPs) use electrodes and may indicate how fast nerve messages are travelling relating to your vision, or other parts of the body
  • MRI to detect scars / lesions in your central nervous system
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to test a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for any sign of oligoclonal bands (OCBs) which are not usually found in the CSF. Often analysed in conjunction with the MRI results
  • Blood tests that may indicate or rule out other conditions

MS treatment - the conventional approach

Conventional treatments of multiple sclerosis in Australia provide management of symptoms as part of a plan developed by your healthcare professionals. Generally, this involves the use of medications including:

  • Immunotherapies (Disease Modifying Therapies), a variety of about 16 drugs which may slow the severity and frequency of attacks to the nervous system, and are often prescribed for people with relapsing remitting MS
  • Corticosteroid medication to reduce inflammation and symptoms of an acute attack
  • Specific medications for individual symptoms such as for treating spasticity, incontinence, depression, or pain

Rehabilitation may be part of the treatment plan to learn to adapt to altered mobility or levels of function, such as physiotherapy, and speech pathology.

Finding the correct medicines can take time and be frustrating, and there can be significant side effects meaning that close monitoring is required to ensure safety.

These treatments can relieve the effects of some symptoms and may slow progression, however, they often don’t treat the root causes or contributing factors that drive MS. This is why many people with MS are dissatisfied with conventional drug therapies and prefer managing multiple sclerosis naturally.

Functional medicine multiple sclerosis treatment

The functional medicine approach is a natural treatment for MS that involves treating the whole person. Thorough investigation from a MS functional medicine practitioner will seek to determine what led to the development of symptoms in the first place. Whether the triggers are food, mould exposure, smoking, or chronic stress, your functional medicine practitioner can help uncover and address those issues naturally, gently and effectively.

Treatment strategies are tailored to the patient to improve healthy myelination of nerves, reduce inflammation, decrease autoimmune activation, increase energy and improve mood, and peripheral sensation. Other strategies include healing the gut, improving the diversity and makeup of microbial gut flora species, testing and removing heavy metals, mycotoxins and increasing immune resilience. Treatment may include:

Dietary changes

  • Include / increase consumption of - anti-inflammatory foods, lecithin, Omega 3 fatty acids via wild-caught oily fish (sardine, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring), plant flavonoids found in colourful fruits and vegetables, berries, healthy fats such as coconut, avocado and extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, only grass fed animal foods, garlic, onion, mushrooms, and eggs
  • Avoid all processed foods and soft drinks, alcohol, coffee, black tea, dairy and wheat, gluten, smoked and cured meats, and sugar as inflammatory foods and triggers
  • Increase fibre intake to improve and support gut microbiome diversity and makeup
  • Identify food sensitivities, allergies or intolerances and eliminate from diet

Supplementary nutrients

  • Phosphatidylserine, choline - for healthy myelin production of nerve cells
  • Digestive enzymes - to ensure digestion and absorption of vital nutrients
  • Selenium, magnesium, Vitamin D3 - to decrease autoimmunity
  • Tyrosine and phenylalanine - to support neurotransmitter production
  • Vitamins B6, B12 and folinic acid - for healthy nerve transmission
  • R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, Vitamin C, tocotrienols - antioxidants, energy production
  • 5-HTP for serotonin production
  • Histidine - for energy, myelin production
  • CoQ10, resveratrol - antioxidants for heart and nerve health, and energy
  • Precision probiotics for improving gut health

Herbal medicines

  • California poppy, Jamaican dogwood, white willow - for pain management
  • Boswellia, turmeric, bupleurum, cat’s claw - anti-inflammatories
  • Ginkgo biloba, gotu kola, bacopa - antioxidants, nerve function
  • Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Enokitake - for regulating the immune response to reduce myelin sheath destruction, or for their antiviral actions
  • St Mary’s thistle (Silybum marianum), globe artichoke to support detoxification

Lifestyle medicine

  • Gentle exercise to maintain mobility, such as walking, Tai chi, yoga and forest bathing, adequate sunlight on bare skin, massage
  • Stress resilience techniques including vagal nerve stimulation such as singing, gargling, massage, and meditation / mindfulness practices

In addition, your functional medicine MS specialist will be mindful of optimising immune resilience for SARS-CoV-2 infection and long COVID symptoms.

These strategies can prevent further damage and slow or stop progression for as long as the patient maintains the regime.

In our personalised six-month program, your practitioner and your health coach will give you the guidance, support, care, and encouragement you need to get better. We can help with a range of chronic health conditions, from autoimmune conditions like MS, to digestive disorders, women’s health concerns, and more.

Case study

See how functional medicine is helping our patients achieve better health and richer lives.

Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how here, then book a call today!

FAQs

Is MS hereditary? Is MS genetic?

Yes, MS is genetically inherited, however, having the genes does not mean that those genes will be ‘turned on’, or that you will develop MS.

In functional medicine, we say ‘the genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger’.

This reflects a complex interplay between your genes and different triggers from viruses to heavy metals, food intolerances / allergies, and many others that trigger the development of MS.

Even if you do develop MS, or any autoimmune condition, there are natural ways to treat and manage the condition effectively and gently.

Is multiple sclerosis an autoimmune disease?

Yes, the body’s own immune cells attack the fatty coating on the outside of the nerves, called myelin.

It is thought that with at least one of the triggers - Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) - that part of the virus is so similar in structure to the molecules of the myelin, that the body attacks these cells by mistake. This is called molecular mimicry and occurs in other autoimmune diseases.

Improving your body’s immune resilience can be done by ensuring you remove the triggers that burden it.

Providing the nutrients for optimal functioning that can help reduce flares, and ensuring your body has the cofactors for making myelin can help repair some damage. This can all be done with natural functional medicine strategies.

How is MS diagnosed in Australia?

Diagnosis of MS is difficult as there is no definitive test that can confirm if you have MS, or not. In Australia, the Mc Donald criteria is used as a diagnostic guide by clinicians to clarify the likelihood of a patient having MS, and rule out conditions with similar symptoms.

It requires 2 or more clinical attacks / relapses along with 2 or more lesions identified by MRI in the spinal cord or brain.

Is multiple sclerosis a virus?

No, MS isn’t a virus, but it can be triggered by a virus such as Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) however, only in people that already have the genetic predisposition.

Is there an MS naturopath specialist near me, in Melbourne?

Yes, there is a multiple sclerosis specialist in Melbourne at Melbourne Functional Medicine.

We consult from our beautiful clinic space in South Melbourne, or we can arrange telehealth for you to save time and stress in travelling.

Our functional medicine trained MS naturopaths help patients successfully manage multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions daily. See some of our success stories here.

Are there alternative therapies from MS specialists? What kind of natural treatment is there for MS?

Yes, managing multiple sclerosis naturally by seeing a functional medicine MS specialist is a great way to feel better and optimise your health.

Our functional medicine trained MS naturopaths use a range of strategies to:

  • Improve healthy myelination of nerves
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Decrease autoimmune activation
  • Increase energy
  • Improve mood
  • And improve peripheral sensation

Other strategies include healing the gut, improving diversity and makeup of microbial gut flora species, testing and removing heavy metals, mycotoxins and increasing immune resilience.

If you’d like to learn more, call Melbourne Functional Medicine today to book a free discovery call.

Can MS be reversed?

Nobody can guarantee that anything can be cured or reversed, however depending on how long you have had MS, and how much damage has been done, it can certainly be improved, or slowed, and the progression can sometimes be stopped.

Identifying and removing the triggers is the first key strategy, as no amount of supplementation, herbs or medicine will be as effective as removing what is precipitating the damage in the first place.

Then reducing inflammation, restoring digestive health and addressing nutrient deficiencies that may be a result of poor diet and absorption would be the next strategy.

Providing the body with the building blocks for making the myelin sheath of the nerves, and improving the conductivity of the nerves would be next, followed by improving energy, mood, eye health or those symptoms that are most important to you.

If you would like to learn more about the holistic approach to multiple sclerosis, or how a functional medicine MS specialist can help you, call Melbourne Functional Medicine for a free discovery call.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.

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