Multiple sclerosis is a serious neurodegenerative disease with no known cure, and that makes it a constant topic of research. Because the cause of the autoimmune response leading to multiple sclerosis is unknown, this makes it even harder for the scientific community to identify a cure. An additional inhibiting factor is that the symptoms in a patient and the progression of the disease in that patient are unique to each individual who develops multiple sclerosis, so it’s hard to establish more than a general pattern.
That’s why so much attention has slowly moved away from traditional medicine and into the alternative treatment methods available. For example, there have been some very important clinic trials and studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids int eh treatment of multiple sclerosis, with some very exciting results. In fact, with a little more research, it may not be long before dosing with omega-3 becomes part of a daily regimen for MS patients.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fat acids that are found in certain foods, mainly specific types of fish and in flaxseed. It has also been popularized as an over the counter supplement for many years. The three major types of omega-3’s are ALA, EPA, and DHA. These healthy fats (as opposed to saturated and trans fats that are detrimental to a healthy lifestyle) are found in plants like flaxseed, canola oil, and soybeans, as well as in several fish, including:
Omega-3 supplements, or even getting additional omega-3 acids through dietary changes, have been linked with benefits such as:
- Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Improved eye health and, in some cases, vision
- Better brain health, especially for children (during pregnancy and early childhood)
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced symptoms of ADHD in children
- Assistance with metabolic syndrome (typically including central obesity or belly fat, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and poor cholesterol)
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduced risk in autoimmune diseases
- Improved functionality in mental disorders
- Improvement in dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Prevention of cancer
- Reduced symptoms of childhood asthma
- Improved health in the bones and joints
- Alleviated menstrual pain
- More restful sleep
- Better skin health
With such a long list of benefits, it seems like omega-3 fatty acids might be beneficial in just about any ailment a person can suffer. But what does this mean for multiple sclerosis patients?
What benefit omega-3 fatty acids have for multiple sclerosis?
Some of the benefits listed could have a major effect on the nasty symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which is an advantage for those suffering, especially during relapses and for those who have a progressive type of MS.
- Eye health – Among the major symptoms of MS are double vision, blurred vision, blindness, and eye pain. By improving eye health and potentially vision overall, omega-3’s could perhaps reduce the effects of these symptoms.
- Inflammation – While damage to the myelin can lead to free radicals damaging the nerves they protect, the main source of damage and cause of symptoms in multiple sclerosis is inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Since omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation, this could greatly assist with the overwhelming symptoms of an MS relapse.
- Sleep – Omega-3 oils can assist with getting more sleep and improving the quality of sleep. Many patients with multiple sclerosis find it difficult to sleep, especially during a relapse, and being tired only exacerbates the symptoms of the disease. Using omega-3 supplements can help patients get fuller rest so they are more functional throughout the day.
However, the benefits don’t stop there. Clinical trials show even greater hope for multiple sclerosis patients based on omega-3 supplementation. The most important aspect of these substances in MS sufferers could very well be that they are apparently immunomdulators. This means they help control the function of the immune system. Since multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, this could be of huge benefit.
Omega-3 fatty acids and multiple sclerosis: Immunomodulation
A type of cell called a macrophage that is produced by the immune system is located in the tissue. These cells are tasked with secreting substances that control cell function and to respond to signals to produce inflammation when certain pathogens or types of internal damage are detected. Normally, these cells practice autophagy, a process of self-regulation in which they break down any dysfunctional or unnecessary matter that exists in themselves and other cells.
When this doesn’t occur due to improper function of the macrophages, such as could be the case in patients with long term or severe ailments and diseases, it leads to increased inflammation. In a study in Norway, it was determined that autophagy processes increased with the supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, thereby reducing inflammation significantly. As a result, it’s been determined that this could be a breakthrough in potentially curing or halting the advancement of multiple sclerosis, especially in individuals with progressive forms of the disease.
It was additionally found that the introduction of omega-3’s reduced the response of type 1 interferon, which also produces an inflammatory issue. The tests were performed on mice and on the cells of healthy human donors rather than on any individual, and it did not use cells taken from anyone with multiple sclerosis. However, the general favorable outcome could lead to further human testing for conclusive results and a new way of treating patients with a simple supplement available over the counter.
While modern medicine is needed to help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and a treatment regimen is required for all patients, new findings about age-old supplements and natural remedies continue to emerge. Alternative treatment with omega-3 fatty acids has been deemed relatively safe for all people, but because of certain medications that could be counteracted with the supplement, it’s important for patients to consult with their physician prior to jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, if an MS patient is on beta interferon therapy, the physician might be quick to recommend against using omego-3 supplements. Otherwise, it seems that, used cautiously, omega-3 oils could produce incredible benefits for those with multiple sclerosis.