Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects the body’s nerves causing them to break down. MS is caused by an immune reaction to the layer of fat surrounding the nerves known as the myelin sheath. Women over the age of 30 are at most risk. Nutrition is very important for people suffering from MS, but the symptoms make it hard to eat well. Vitamin D, omega-6 fats and vitamin B12 have some benefits. Exact amounts of these nutrients to be effective on the disease have not been determined. People with MS should strive to meet the recommended daily intake of these nutrients by eating a well balanced diet.
There is a link between low levels of vitamin D and MS. Generally, people in the north have lower levels of vitamin D. Populations in northern parts of the world have higher rates of MS. Vitamin D is activated in the skin by the sun’s UV rays. In northern areas from October to March, the UV rays are not strong enough to activate vitamin D leading to lower levels in the body.
Vitamin D might be able to slow the body’s immune reaction to the myelin sheath. Many people with MS do not get enough vitamin D. This also puts them at risk for developing osteoporosis. Without enough vitamin D, calcium cannot be used to make bone. Currently, there is not enough evidence to prescribe vitamin D therapy. However, all people with MS should strive to meet their daily needs for vitamin D. Men and women between the ages of 31 – 50 years need 400 IUs of vitamin D. Food sources of vitamin D are fish, eggs, and fortified milk and margarine.
Omega-6 fats can slow the inflammation of nerves that occurs during the immune reaction. These fats are also important in the make up of the brain tissue and myelin sheath. Omega-6 fats have been found in lower amounts in the brains of people with MS. Deficiency can worsen symptoms of MS. Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils such as canola and safflower.
Vitamin B12 is needed to make myelin. Some people with MS have lower levels of B12 in their blood and the fluid around their spinal cord and brain. They may also have less ability to absorb this nutrient. It is recommended that people with MS be screened for B12 deficiency but routine supplementation of B12 is not suggested. To ensure that B12 levels are adequate, people with MS should eat foods rich in B12 such as meat, milk products and seafood.
There are many potential ways that nutrition can benefit people suffering from MS. However, it is important for good quality research to be done in this area to answer questions about the long term effects of supplementation in people with MS.
WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN
Originator: Nicky Buchholz, intern for Carolyn Chu, Saskatoon Health Region
“Nutrition in Multiple Sclerosis”, Arbor Clinical Nutrition Updates, vol. 228, no. 1-3, pp. 1446-5450, 2005.
Payne, A., “Nutrition and Diet in the Clinical Management of Multiple Sclerosis”,Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, vol.14, pp. 349-357, 2001.
Schwarz, S., and Leweling, H., “Multiple Sclerosis and Nutrition”, Multiple Sclerosis, vol.11, pp. 24-32, 2005.