Patients with multiple sclerosis prescribe to multiple treatment methods, ranging from disease modifying therapies (DMTs) to anti-inflammatories and treatments such as physical and occupational therapy. In recent years, there has been a great push in many fields for herbal supplements and finding homeopathic options to treat things like symptoms of MS. There are several that arguably are helpful, including these nine herbal remedies.
1. Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a tree, the leaves of which are used to create an extract that is used medicinally. It has several important properties that can assist in reducing symptoms of multiple sclerosis. As a treatment for Alzheimer’s, it’s proven to help with cognitive and memory issues, though clinical results are inconclusive for treating this in MS. It’s also antibacterial and antifungal, reducing the risk of infection, which is helpful for MS patients on immunosuppressants. Because ginkgo biloba also improves blood flow and circulation, it can also reduce bouts of weakness and dizziness during relapses.
Research into glutathione, a substance produced naturally in the body, shows that it is involved in the process of cell respiration, which is how the body gets its energy. Reduced amounts of glutathione mean that a person may not get enough nutrition to the cells, which results in weakness, such as found in multiple sclerosis. Supplementing glutathione by eating foods that promote the production of it can help. In addition, glutathione is a very important antioxidant that can destroy free radicals, which damage the exposed nerve cells in the central nervous system. These nerves are exposed due to destruction of the myelin coating on the nerves, which helps protect the nerves and also insures that signals are sped along the nerves appropriately. In patients with MS, these nerves are particularly vulnerable to free radicals, and glutathione seems to act as a similar protectant.
3. Lipoic acid
Lipoic acid is also a naturally produced antioxidant. However, supplementing the natural levels of lipoic acid can help patients with multiple sclerosis by reducing inflammation, since it’s a proven anti-inflammatory. In addition, lipoic acid appears to be an immunomodulator, which means that it can help to reduce the number of T-cells in the system. With fewer T-cells, there is less chance of an attack, which means reduced frequency and severity of relapses.
4. Green tea
Green tea isn’t processed the way other teas are, so leaves are “raw” for use. Considering that green tea is chock full of antioxidants, it is great for reducing the amount of free radicals in the system, which can irreversibly damage nerves that are exposed without myelin coating. Other benefits for MS patients include antibiotic and antifungal properties that reduce the likelihood of infection, maintaining a healthy weight for greater mobility, reduced fatigue, improved cognitive function, and improved mood.
5. St. John’s Wort
It’s important to note that St. John’s Wort could interfere with a number of traditional medicines used to treat multiple sclerosis, including anticonvulsants, antidepressants prescribed for pain relief, and blood thinners. It’s also known to increase fatigue and photosensitivity. However, if none of this presents an issue for a patient, benefits include topical use for healing wounds (reducing episodes of infection), assisting with quitting smoking (since smoking is a risk factor for more frequent relapses), and treating mild to moderate depression, which appears in as many as eighty percent of MS patients.
Cannabis, a flowering plant that produces THC and CBD, is one of the latest herbal products to hit the market. While legality of it is still debated and hasn’t been approved everywhere, there are tons of medicinal properties that can assist with reducing symptoms of multiple sclerosis. These include calming nerves that cause spasms and the pins and needles effect, relieving stiffness, calming an overactive bladder, pain relief (acquired over time), reduction of vomiting and nausea (in patients treated with chemo), and improved quantity and quality of sleep.
7. Coenzyme Q10
Clinical studies of CoQ10 have shown massive results in the improvement of fatigue for patients with multiple sclerosis. It’s also a strong antioxidant, which can reduce the number of free radicals in the body and, therefore, help protect exposed nerves in the CNS from damage. It is also an anti-inflammatory, which can ease a lot of MS symptoms simply by reducing the inflammatory response caused by the autoimmune attack on the CNS.
8. Omega-3 fatty acids
These are the “good” fat (polyunsaturated) that dieticians enforce as necessary in a diet, and they are found mainly in certain types of fish, as well as in canola oil and flaxseed. They are touted to have an incredibly long list of benefits for everyone, but the focus of these supplements in the treatment of MS are for particular symptoms. Omega-3’s are likely to help with eye health, which can reduce the effects of MS on the optic nerve. They also fight inflammation, relieving multiple symptoms and reducing the likelihood of permanent damage to the CNS. These fatty acids are also good for getting a longer, more restful sleep, which is essential to reducing fatigue and avoiding exhaustion that exacerbates symptoms of MS.
Patients with multiple sclerosis are warned against taking echinacea because it is an immune booster. Because MS is an autoimmune disease, the fact that echinacea promotes the creation of T-cells could be detrimental to an MS patient’s health, increasing the risk of flare ups and making symptoms more severe. However, if this is not a concern based on prognosis and the opinion of the physician, echinacea is known for lowering infection risk, reducing fatigue and dizziness, battling migraines, and helping ease the general pain of multiple sclerosis.
Some of these herbal remedies offer a lot more based on helping with a variety of symptoms, while others have more definitive research to prove their value. In any case, it’s important that patients discuss all their options with a physician prior to starting any new regimen. There could be interactions between the current medications and any supplements that are added. Most herbs don’t have significant side effects in healthy people, but that may change with the way the body is changed with the disease as well as through DMTs. However, a lot of benefit could be found in the right herbal supplements.