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Nutrient supplementation could improve multiple sclerosis, study suggests

Nutrient deficiencies

(NaturalNews) Levels of many key antioxidants are lower in women with multiple sclerosis (MS) than in healthy women, according to a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The findings might suggest that a poor diet is a contributing factor to the development of MS, although further studies would be needed to specifically test that hypothesis. It might also mean that boosting dietary antioxidants could reduce disease symptoms.

"Since MS is a chronic inflammatory disorder, having enough nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties may help prevent the disease or reduce the risk of attacks for those who already have MS," researcher Sandra D. Cassard, ScD, said.

Folate levels particularly low

MS appears to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system destroys the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves in the central nervous system. This leads to slower nerve impulses and causes the classic MS symptoms of loss of muscle control and balance. MS can also lead to loss of vision or cognitive function.

Although the precise cause of MS remains unknown, prior studies have shown that environmental and lifestyle factors such as low vitamin D levels and smoking can increase the risk of the disease.

The new study was conducted on Caucasian women between the ages of 18 and 60 with a body mass index equal to or less than 30 kg/m2 (that is in the underweight to overweight range but not obese). Twenty-seven women with MS were compared with 30 healthy controls. All participants reported on their diet and nutrition over the course of the past year and were given a vitamin D supplement.

The researchers found that average levels of five antioxidants or anti-inflammatories were lower in the MS group than in the control group: food folate, vitamin E, magnesium, lutein-zeaxanthin and quercetin. The women with MS also got less of their daily calories from fat than the healthy women.

For example, the average food folate intake among women with MS was just 244 mcg, compared with 321 mcg among the healthy women. Both fell short of the recommended daily intake of 400 mcg. Women with MS got an average of 254 mg of magnesium per day, compared with 320 mg per day among the healthy women and the daily recommendation of 321 mg.

"Antioxidants are also critical to good health and help reduce the effects of other types of damage that can occur on a cellular level and contribute to neurologic diseases like MS," Cassard said. "Whether the nutritional differences that we identified in the study are a cause of MS or a result of having it is not yet clear."

Lifestyle key to MS management, prevention

Research continues to uncover new ways that lifestyle may play a key role in preventing or managing MS. For example, studies have shown that quitting smoking leads to reduced disease symptoms. Other studies have shown a connection between either a high sodium diet or sleep apnea and worsened symptoms, suggesting that improved sleep or a lower sodium diet could improve symptoms.

Other interventions that have shown promise include mental imaging techniques designed for brain injury patients and even simple exercise. Many neurologists are recommending salsa dancing in particular, because the back-and-forth step pattern seems to stimulate brain function.

The most important lifestyle variable of all may be time spent outdoors. Vitamin D has long been known to be linked with MS risk, and new research suggests that boosting vitamin D levels could also improve disease symptoms.

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