Natural Supplement Combination Helps Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a challenging disease on many fronts, including the search for effective ways to treat and manage symptoms and relapse. Results of a novel trial using omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins, have shown some promise for people with multiple sclerosis.
Can a natural supplement help MS patients?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) attacks the central nervous system, damaging and destroying the myelin sheaths that protect the nerves and causing a wide array of symptoms that can range from mild (e.g., numbness in the limbs) to severe (e.g., paralysis, blindness). Among the estimated 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million individuals around the world who have MS, one challenge is reducing and managing relapses.
Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common form of the disease. It is characterized by attacks—when symptoms flare—followed by remission, when patients have few or no symptoms. Remissions can last for weeks or months, and the disease does not progress.
After 10 to 20 years, people with relapsing-remitting MS typically develop a progressive form of the disease. Known as secondary progressive MS, patients experience a decline in relapses but the disease gets worse.
Researchers in Cyprus conducted a 30-month randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, proof-of-concept clinical trial in which they tested three different new, natural treatments to determine if they might reduce disease activity among patients with relapsing-remitting MS who were or were not receiving disease-modifying treatment.
Eighty patients were randomly assigned to one of four groups: (1) omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on a 1:1 ratio, plus vitamin A and vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol; (2) the same as (1) plus the addition of gamma-tocopherol; (3) gamma-tocopherol alone; and (4) placebo. The supplements were taken once a day. A total of 41 patients completed the study.
After two years, there were eight relapses reported by the 10 patients in the (2) group compared with 25 relapses reported by the 12 patients in the placebo group. This represented a 64 percent reduction in risk.
The nutrients used in the supplement combination included the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) at 3:1 weight/weight. Both DHA and EPA are available in fish oil supplements.
- Omega-6 fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid at 2:1 weight/weight. Linoleic acid is found in many vegetables oils. Gamma-linolenic acid is found in plant oils such as evening primrose and black currant and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vitamin A, a group of fat-soluble retinoids that are involved in immune system function, vision, and cell communication
- Alpha-tocopherol, one of eight types of vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin. It is a potent antioxidant and works with gamma-tocopherol, another form of vitamin E.
- Gamma-tocopherol is another form of vitamin E that reportedly has more anti-inflammatory powers than alpha-tocopherol and is the form found naturally in the diet.
The authors noted that minor amounts of other nutrients (i.e., polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fatty acids) were also in the supplement combination. Overall, this small study demonstrated that a nutritional supplement combination significantly reduced the occurrence of relapse in patients with MS.