Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a
chronic condition affecting the central nervous system. Its symptoms range from
mild and intermittent to severe and permanently debilitating (NINDS, 2012).
There is currently no cure for MS, but many pharmaceutical and alternative
treatments are available.
Treatments for MS typically
target the disease’s symptoms, because its cause is not known. The symptoms of
MS stem from the breakdown of communication between the brain and the nerves (NIH, 2013).
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
There are many symptoms of multiple
sclerosis; symptoms tend to become more severe as the disease progresses.
Common symptoms of MS include vision problems, weakness, memory problems,
balance and coordination problems, and a variety of sensations in the limbs
(such as prickling, tingling, or numbness) (NIH, 2013).
Certain treatments can be
very effective in alleviating and even avoiding the unpleasant symptoms of MS.
Before using any herbs, supplements, or alternative or complementary therapies
to treat MS, discuss the benefits and risks with a physician.
Herbs and Supplements: Can They Help You
Although no drug or
supplement can cure MS, some treatments may help people slow the disease’s
progress. Other therapies can significantly reduce symptoms or prolong periods
of remission. The use of complementary and alternative medicine among people
with MS is high around the world (Skovgaard, et al., 2012; Yadav, Shinto, & Bourdette, 2010). Many people turn to non-pharmaceutical treatments
when Western medicine fails to improve their symptoms. Others decide to try
these options when referred by their primary care provider or when they hear
about the promise of alternative treatments (Olsen, 2009).
Regardless of your reasons
for seeking information on herbal and supplementary treatments for MS, always
consult a healthcare professional prior to discontinuing the use of
pharmaceuticals or adding a new therapy to your treatment regimen. Some herbs,
supplements, and alternative therapies can cause drug interactions, adverse
health conditions, and medical complications when used incorrectly.
The Top Herbs and Supplements for MS (and
What They Offer)
The following list does not
cover every available herbal or supplementary option for treating the symptoms
of MS. Instead, the list offers a brief summary of the important information
about each of the most common herbs and supplements used by people with MS.
Current use of agrimony is
based on centuries of its use in treating a variety of health problems.
Although different medicinal properties are attributed to the many different
varieties of agrimony (Park, et al., 2012), recent research has discovered antiviral (Shin, et al., 2010),
antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and metabolism-boosting properties (Ivanova, Vankova, & Nashar, 2012). Human research on this herb as a treatment for MS is virtually
nonexistent, although some promising animal model studies are investigating the
herb’s properties as they relate to MS symptoms.
Maharishi amrit kalash is an
Ayurvedic food supplement used to promote immune health and slow the
deterioration of the central nervous system. Human studies are lacking, but
animal studies show promise for this supplement in treating potential problems
associated with MS (Inaba, Mirbod, & Sugiura, 2005; Vohra, Sharma, & Kansal, 1999).
This Ayurvedic herb is known
by many names, including Withania
somnifera, Indian ginseng, and asana. Its berries, roots, and extracts are
sometimes used for chronic pain, fatigue, inflammation, stress relief, and
anxiety. Although some research for clinical uses of ashwagandha are promising
(Chopra, et al., 2004; Kataria, et al., 2012), it has not been studied well enough to know
whether it can effectively treat multiple sclerosis or its symptoms.
Astragalus is an herb that
has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Although
there are many species of this plant, only two are typically used for medicinal
purposes: Astragalus membranaceus and
Astragalus mongholicus. According to
the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM),
astragalus is safe for most adults but may interact with drugs that affect the
immune system (2012).
This herb is thought to affect the immune system, liver, and heart, but there
has not been enough research in humans to fully understand its effects.
Barberry, or Berberis vulgaris, has long been used in
Indian and Middle Eastern medicine for easing inflammation, fighting infection,
treating diarrhea, and calming heartburn (Ehrlich, 2010). It can be used in many forms and may be used to boost the immune
system, but human research is lacking.
Bee Pollen or Venom
Venom of honeybees is a
clear liquid, and treatment of health conditions with the venom of bee stings
is called apitherapy (the venom is also known as apitoxin). Unlike many of the
other herbs and supplements used to treat MS and its symptoms, bee venom has
been specifically studied for its effects on MS in several clinical trials.
These human trials were typically small, and there are still too few to know
for sure whether venom-derived treatments may be useful for treating MS. Trials
showing benefits are unreliable (Castro, et al., 2005). Others
indicate that bee sting therapy is ineffective (Wessellius, et al., 2005),
insufficiently studied (Bowling, 2010), or downright
dangerous (Alqutub, 2011).
Bee pollen, on the other hand,
is increasingly used as a dietary supplement. Although its properties are still
under investigation, it appears to have antioxidant and antimicrobial abilities
(Fatrcova-Sramkova, et al., 2013). Others claim it is useful in boosting immune
system health and fighting chronic conditions. Research is limited, and deadly
allergic reactions to bee pollen are possible (Greenberger & Flais, 2001).
People with suspected allergies to bee stings or bee pollen should avoid all
treatment options using extracts or products from honeybees.
Bilberry, also known as
huckleberry, is a relative of the blueberry and can be used for its fruit or
leaves. Although it is often used in foods, the berries and leaves can be used
to derive plant extracts for supplements and other medicinal uses.
Historically, this herb was used to treat everything from vision problems and
scurvy to diarrhea and circulation problems (NCCAM, 2012). There are few
reliable human trials studying this plant, and bilberry research specifically
related to MS is virtually nonexistent. However, there is evidence suggesting
bilberry is rich in antioxidants and has the potential to improve vision,
reduce inflammation, and protect cognitive function (Chu, et al., 2011).
Arctium lappa, commonly known as burdock, has been used in traditional Chinese
medicine (TCM) and European medicine for centuries. It is touted for its
apparent ability to promote circulation and reduce inflammation (Chan, et al., 2011). Burdock
is being studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities and its
potential impact on cancer, diabetes, skin conditions, and the gastrointestinal
system. Severe allergic reactions to burdock are possible, and not enough research
on MS and burdock has been done to determine whether it is useful for people
Calcium is a crucial mineral
for the body’s health and proper function. It is a common part of many diets
and is a common supplement. Research indicates that calcium plays an important
role in bone health, cardiovascular health, and cancer risk (ODS, 2012).
Proper levels of calcium are important for everyone, but individuals with MS
who are also taking vitamin D or medications with one of these ingredients
should consult a physician before adding one of these supplements to their
routine. Vitamin D increases the body’s absorption of calcium, and an overdose
of calcium can be toxic (ODS, 2012).
Apparently catnip is not
just for kitties—some individuals use this herb for MS pain management. Catnip
has sedative effects, which may actually make fatigue worse or multiply the
effect of other sedative medications (Bowling & Stewart, 2004). Research in humans is sorely lacking, but early
animal trials on extracts of various species of this plant indicate that catnip
may have anti-inflammatory and pain relief abilities (Ali, et al., 2012; Bouidida, et al., 2008).
Chamomile has been used for
centuries both topically and orally for skin conditions, sleeplessness or anxiety,
stomach upset, and gas or diarrhea (NCCAM, 2012).
Trials in humans are few and far between, but its common use and availability
in a variety of forms make chamomile a popular remedy for some people with MS.
Chamomile offers antioxidant (Guimaraes, et al., 2013) and
antibacterial (Baradari, Khezri, & Arabi, 2012) effects, and it is also being studied for its
ability to prevent tumor growth and mouth ulcers for cancer patients (Lefort & Blay, 2013).
However, not enough is known specifically about chamomile’s role in treating MS
to indicate whether it is effective for this purpose.
Chyawanprash is an herbal
tonic commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. Early animal studies indicate it may
protect cognitive function by aiding memory (Parle & Bansal, 2011). It
also may have ingredients that promote immune system health (Sur, et al., 2004). Formal
studies on humans are scarce, and there is not enough evidence to determine
whether Chyawanprash is effective or helpful in managing MS symptoms.
Cramp bark, or Viburnum opulus, is plant bark that is
used to treat cramps and spasms. Although human research on this herb is in its
infancy, it appears to have antioxidants and anti-cancer effects that may
inhibit the growth of tumors or lesions (Rop, et al., 2010; Ulger, et al., 2012).
Although cranberry juice
(unsweetened 100% juice, not cocktail or mixed juices) and cranberry tablets
have long been used to fend off urinary tract infections, research indicates
that its benefit may be less than previously expected (Jepson, Williams, & Craig, 2012). Diluted pure cranberry juice (which is high in antioxidants) and
cranberry tablets may be an easy way to give MS patients with bladder
dysfunction a bit of an advantage, however. Complications with this remedy are
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is
used for its potential ability to slow neurodegenerative diseases. Research on
its effectiveness is mixed, but certain studies have shown a small positive
effect of CoQ10 in patients with a variety of neurological disorders (Spindler, Beal, & Henchcliffe, 2009). CoQ10 deficiency does not appear to be a risk
factor for MS (de Bustos, et al., 2000), but the supplement is typically well tolerated and
generally safe. More research is needed before it can be broadly recommended
for people with MS or other conditions that cause degenerative problems.
Dandelion Root & Leaf
Korean medicine has used the
dandelion in herbal remedies for energy improvement and general health, while
Native American and Arabic medicine used dandelion for digestive and skin
problems. Animal trials suggest dandelion may reduce fatigue and promote immune
health (Lee, Lee, & An, 2012). Research also suggests that dandelion has antioxidant
and anti-inflammatory effects (Gonzalez-Castejon, Visioli, & Rodriguez-Casado, 2012). No research has examined the impact of dandelion
on multiple sclerosis, but the plant does appear to have some medicinal properties
that might be helpful to individuals with MS symptoms.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty
acid, docosahexaenoic acid, which can be obtained by consuming vegetable oils,
fatty fish, or omega-3 dietary supplements. According to the National Center
for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), DHA is essential for blood
flow, muscle activity, digestion, cell growth, and brain function (2012). In patients
with MS, DHA supplements may help protect the central nervous system (Shinto, et al., 2011). Its
anti-inflammatory properties and ability to promote brain health may prove
useful for people with MS (Simopoulos, 2002; Kong, Yen, & Ganea, 2011).
Side effects to DHA supplementation are typically mild, although it can thin the
blood and make clotting difficult. Most people with MS may be able to safely
supplement with DHA with the guidance of a physician.
Echinacea is available in
many forms and has long been used to treat colds and upper respiratory
infections. Evidence is mixed as to its ability to prevent and treat colds (NCCAM, 2012).
For MS patients, research generally supports the plant’s anti-inflammatory
potential for the central nervous system and its ability to promote immune cell
health (Bauer, Woelkhart, & Salo-Ahen, 2008). Some people may be allergic to echinacea and
should take great caution with its use, but the herb is typically safe as a
Elderflower is known by many
names, including European elder, Sambucus
nigra, and elderberry. The berries and flowers of the elder tree have
traditionally been used for skin conditions, infections, colds, fevers, pain,
and swelling. The uncooked or unripe berries are toxic, and inappropriate use
of the plant can cause diarrhea and vomiting (NCCAM, 2012). Limited
research supports the use of the elderflower in treating the flu, as well as
for chronic inflammatory conditions (Schwaiger, et al., 2011). Animal
studies also suggest a role of elderflower extracts in regulating immune
response in the central nervous system (Wielgat, Holownia, & Braszko, 2012). More research in humans needs to be done to define the potential of
elderflower in managing MS symptoms.
Fish or Cod Liver Oil
Fish liver oil and cod liver
oil are not the same as plain fish oils, which many people take for the omega-3
fatty acids. Liver oils from fish contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins
A and D, which can cause overdose effects in large amounts (NCCAM, 2012).
Some research indicates that cod liver oil is not as useful as regular fish in
the diet for diseases that cause demyelination (Torkildsen, et al., 2009).
However, the vitamin D in cod liver oil may have a protective effect prior to
the onset of MS (McDowell, et al., 2011). In general, however, vitamin D and the fatty acids
found in fish liver and its oils may offer a variety of health benefits from
which people with MS are not excluded.
Ginger has long been used
for its remarkable flavor and its medicinal purposes. In folk medicines, it is
commonly used to aid in stomach problems, nausea, joint and muscle pain, and
diarrhea (NCCAM, 2012).
Research is starting to uncover anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective potential
in ginger and other spices (Kannappan, et al., 2011). The
potential role of ginger in preventing inflammatory problems makes ginger an
excellent choice for use in cooking or supplements (Aggarwal & Shishodia, 2004).
Most people can tolerate reasonable use of ginger with few or no side effects.
Renowned for its potential
to improve memory and mental clarity, Gingko
biloba has been used for a wide variety of ailments over the centuries.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gingko extract or supplements
are possibly effective for improving thinking and memory difficulties,
relieving leg pain and overactive nerve responses, impacting eye and vision
problems, and even reducing dizziness and vertigo (2012). It
has not been widely studied in individuals with MS. Most people can safely take
gingko biloba in supplement form, but it may interact with a wide variety of
other medications and herbs (NIH, 2012).
For this reason, it is essential to ask a doctor before beginning the use of
There are several varieties
of ginseng used for medicinal purposes. Most forms of ginseng have some
well-supported health benefits. Panax ginseng, for instance, is possibly
effective for improving thinking and memory and relieving erectile dysfunction,
although its safety is less well known (NIH, 2012).
American ginseng may help prevent respiratory infections, and Siberian ginseng
may have antiviral properties that could help fight a cold. Most forms of
ginseng also have benefits for diabetics, but all forms carry the risk of
allergy and drug interaction. Always ask a physician before adding ginseng to
an MS dietary regimen.
Gotu kola is a popular
traditional medicine in Chinese and Ayurvedic history. It has been promoted as
an herb that can lengthen life and improve symptoms of eye diseases, swelling,
inflammation, skin conditions, and fatigue (ACS, 2008).
Gotu kola has been studied very little, and its actual impact on MS symptoms is
unknown (ACS, 2008).
It is available in a wide variety of forms, and it is generally considered safe
in low doses.
Hawthorn plants have long
been used in medical treatments for heart conditions, such as heart failure or
irregular heartbeats (Ehrlich, 2011). More recently, it has been studied (primarily in animals) for its
effect on circulation. Recent research also suggests it has anti-tumor and
anti-inflammatory properties that could play a role in fighting other diseases
(Jurikova, et al., 2012). In general, this plant has not been well studied
for its effects on human health.
Huo Ma Ren (Chinese Hemp Seed)
This traditional Chinese
medicine, used for its sedative properties for a variety of illnesses, is
believed to soothe problems of the nervous system. Extracts from plants in the
cannabis family have been studied for their role in reducing spasticity,
neurodegeneration, and inflammation (Saito, Rezende, & Teixeira, 2012). Some practitioners believe that closely monitored use of specific
members of this plant family can be highly effective for treating symptoms of multiple
sclerosis (Grotenhermen & Muller-Vahl, 2012), but its use in the clinical setting remains
Lemongrass, a widely known
plant popular in aromatherapy and Asian cooking, has been well studied for its
antimicrobial properties. It may also have properties that promote sleep and
prevent seizures, based on animal studies (Bianco et al., 2009). Other
animal trials do not show these effects, however, and the medicinal properties
of lemongrass have been studied very little in humans—particularly for symptoms
related to multiple sclerosis.
Licorice root and its
extracts have long been used to treat viral conditions, stomach ulcers, and
throat problems. Very limited research suggests that licorice may reduce inflammation
(Li, et al., 2011). It may also have some neuroprotective effects (Kannappan, et al., 2011). Research is still insufficient to make a
recommendation for the use of licorice to treat MS symptoms.
Magnesium is essential for a
wide variety of bodily functions. Deficiencies in this mineral can cause
weakness, fatigue, tingling, cramps, seizures, muscle contraction, numbness,
and personality changes (ODS, 2009).
Some research indicates that magnesium deficiencies may be associated with some
of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and a number of
other chronic and progressive conditions (Johnson, 2001). Magnesium
supplements and a diet containing natural sources of magnesium may be useful
for preventing a deficiency that could aggravate symptoms of MS (NIH, 2012).
Traditionally used as a
liver tonic, milk thistle is being studied in the modern age for its impact on
liver inflammation and health (Hackett, Twedt, & Gustafson, 2013). The herb is available in a variety of forms (tinctures, supplements,
etc.), but the appropriate doses for treatment of conditions in humans is
unknown. More research needs to be done before this herb can be officially
recommended for treatment of MS symptoms.
Often used to treat
constipation and for skin care, mineral oil is commonly found in cosmetics and
laxatives. The use of mineral oil for laxative purposes should not be done for
long-term relief (NMSS, n.d.).
It is possible to overdose on mineral oil; its minerals and vitamins can build
up to toxic levels in the body. This oil can also make other gastrointestinal
problems worse in some individuals.
Multimineral & Multivitamin Supplements
Although they can be
purchased as separate supplements, many supplements combine numerous vitamins
and minerals in a single pill or powder. In most cases, it is preferable to
obtain as many nutrients as possible from a healthy, balanced diet. However,
some health problems make it harder for people to get enough out of food or
make it easier to develop deficiencies. There is still disagreement in the
scientific community as to the importance of multiminerals or multivitamins in
the prevention of a wide range of health problems and the maintenance of health.
Some evidence does suggest that certain varieties of multimineral and/or
multivitamin supplementation may help prevent eye problems (Seddon, 2007), brain
inflammation (Ryan, O’Gorman, & Nolan, 2011), neurodegenerative problems (Mazzio, Close, & Soliman, 2011), fatigue and cognitive problems (Haskell, et al., 2010), and
other health problems. For some individuals with MS, a general
multimineral-multivitamin supplement may help prevent deficiencies that could
worsen symptoms of the disease.
Myrrh has historically been
treasured for its aroma and use in ritual religious ceremonies. In addition, it
has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It was believed to
have antiseptic abilities as well as the power to fight diabetes, circulation
problems, and rheumatism (Etman, et al., 2011). It also
appears to have useful anti-inflammatory properties (Kim, et al., 2012) for the
modern treatment of health problems. It does not appear to have been studied
specifically for symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Oat Seed or Oat Straw
Whole oats are often used to
reduce cholesterol and promote cardiovascular health. Despite their reputation
for improving heart health, the research supporting oats’ antioxidant and
anti-inflammatory effects in humans is limited (Andersson & Hellstrand, 2012). Oat seed is believed to have anti-fungal properties (Sorenson, et al., 2010). Oat
straw is believed to be helpful for multiple sclerosis, spasms, depression, and
degenerative diseases (Ritchason, 1995). Research supporting these abilities of oat straw is lacking, however.
Omega-3 & Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 are
essential fatty acids (EFAs), or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), that are revered
for their potential to promote everything from a healthy cardiovascular system
to a healthy brain. Although their exact impact on MS is yet unknown, clinical
studies are under way. The anti-inflammatory and immune-promoting effects of
these fats are expected to be a promising option for supplementation in the
treatment of MS (Mehta, Dworkin, & Schwid, 2009). These fatty acids can be found naturally in foods
as well as in over-the-counter pills (Franzen-Castle & Ritter-Gooder, 2010).
Peppermint has long been
used topically and in the form of tea or capsules to promote digestive health,
fight muscle and nerve pain, relieve headaches, and ease nausea or stress (NCCAM, 2012).
There is insufficient research to determine whether it is clinically useful for
the treatment of MS, but research is promising for its effect on irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS).
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)
can be found naturally in the diet as well as in supplements. Omega-3 and omega-6
fatty acids may be helpful for reducing inflammation and promoting health in a
variety of ways, but the role of PUFAs in treating MS symptoms is not well
studied. Some research suggests that PUFA supplements may reduce the severity
and length of MS relapses (von Geldern & Mowry, 2012).
Probiotics are bacteria that
are thought to be useful to the body. They are often called “good bacteria” and
are similar to the microorganisms found in the human body (NCCAM, 2012).
Probiotics are available in the form of supplements and yogurts. Limited
research suggests that probiotics may be useful in avoiding malabsorption of
nutrients in people with MS (Kidd, 2001). In general,
probiotics may have anti-inflammatory properties that may boost immune and
neurological health (Hemarajata & Versalovic, 2013).
Red clover is a legume that
has historically been used to treat respiratory problems, cancers, and
menopausal symptoms. Some research suggests it could help prevent
cardiovascular disease (Mueller, Hobiger, & Jungbauer, 2010), but long-term use of red clover may not be safe.
It has not been evaluated in human trials for its impact on MS symptoms.
Throughout the ages, sage
has been used for more than just its rich herb flavor. Historically, it has
been used to address mouth and throat problems, indigestion, and mental acuity
While sage may have properties that are linked to memory enhancement and
improved mood (Senol, et al., 2011; Kennedy, et al., 2011), there is not enough research in humans to know how
effective it might be in treating MS symptoms.
Schizandra (Schisandra) berry is thought to have
antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties (Jung, et al., 2012; Takimoto, et al., 2013).
Animal trials suggest it may also have a neuroprotective ability (Lee, Jung, & Lee, 2012).
However, schizandra berries have not been well studied for their potential to
relieve MS symptoms in humans.
Selenium is a mineral that
is becoming increasingly well understood for its contribution to human health. It
has long been used to prevent heart problems and a number of different cancers,
although scientific support for selenium’s effects is limited (NIH, 2012).
Research indicates it plays an important role in eye health, immune system
health, and a variety of chronic health conditions (Sanmartin, et al., 2011).
American skullcap has
traditionally been used to promote sleep, ease anxiety, and treat convulsions (Ehrlich, 2011). Chinese skullcap is used for a wider variety of health conditions,
such as headache, cancer, inflammation, infection, and allergies (Ehrlich, 2011). The two varieties of skullcap should be used with caution; both can
interact with certain medications and medical conditions. There is not enough
research on skullcap’s effects on human health to recommend it to manage MS.
Slippery elm has long been
used as a treatment for skin problems, gastrointestinal discomforts, coughs,
and sore throats (Ehrlich, 2011). There is not enough research on slippery elm to know whether it is
effective at treating MS symptoms.
Soy lecithin is found in
soybeans; it is rich in choline, which may be linked to better heart and brain
health. Soy lecithin may be useful in fighting high levels of cholesterol (Wilson, Meservey, & Nicolosi, 1998) and in raising choline levels in the brain (Magil, Zeisel, & Wurtman, 1981). It has not been studied well enough in people with MS to determine
whether it is useful for treating MS symptoms.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort has
traditionally been used for nerve pain, mental health problems (like depression
and anxiety), and as a balm for wounds. Its impact on depressive symptoms has been
well studied. St. John’s wort is starting to be evaluated for its ability to
promote the healing and health of nerves (Mohammadi, Amini, & Charehsaz, 2012; Wan & Chen, 2010). There
is not enough research on St.-John’s-wort and MS to be able to recommend its
use for treatment of MS symptoms. It may interact with a wide variety of
medications and should be discussed with a physician prior to use (NCCAM, 2012).
This popular alternative to
sugar has long been used for diabetes treatment. Recent research has also
identified antioxidant effects and other properties that could potentially
improve liver and kidney health (Shivanna, et al., 2012). There
is not enough research on stevia and MS to be able to recommend its use for
treatment of MS symptoms.
Turmeric is a popular spice
containing curcuminoids. Curcuminoids have been shown to have neuroprotective
effects (Kim, Kim, & Han, 2012). Its anti-inflammatory abilities also show promise
for the alleviation of MS symptoms (Xie, Li, & Takahara, 2011)
and other autoimmune diseases (Bright, 2007). However, its
true impact on MS symptoms, as well as its proper dosage, must be studied
further before it can be widely recommended for use by people with MS.
Traditionally used for
headaches, trembling, and a variety of sleep disorders, valerian has also been
used for anxiety and depression. Research on the effectiveness of valerian for
insomnia and anxiety is mixed (Nunes & Sousa, 2011). It
is uncertain whether valerian is useful for treating symptoms of MS
This fat-soluble vitamin
plays a critical role in vision, reproductive health, and the immune system.
Vitamin A is also important for proper function of the heart and other organs (ODS, 2012).
Vitamin A can be found naturally in a variety of foods (such as leafy greens,
organ meats, fruits, and dairy products) or obtained through a supplement. It
is possible to overdose on vitamin A, and it should not be taken in large doses
without the advice of a physician. Vitamin A supplementation has been linked to
delays in age-related macular degeneration (ODS, 2012).
The antioxidants in vitamin A may be useful for people with MS, but the
connection has not been well explored (Besler, Comoglu, & Okcu, 2002; Filippi, Preziosa, & Rocca, 2013).
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1, also known as
thiamine or thiamin, is critical for proper brain function. Thiamine is also essential
for healthy metabolism and nerve, muscle, and heart function. Deficiencies in
thiamine are associated with a variety of neurodegenerative conditions,
including multiple sclerosis (Jhala & Hazell, 2011). Too
little vitamin B1 can also cause weakness and fatigue (NIH, 2011).
Thiamine can be found in nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, eggs, and lean
Vitamin B6 is an essential
nutrient for metabolism that is found in certain foods (such as organ meats,
fish, and starchy vegetables) and supplements. Although deficiencies are rare,
low vitamin B6 levels are not uncommon in autoimmune disorders. Vitamin B6
deficiency can be associated with abnormal brain function, depression, confusion,
and kidney problems (ODS, 2011).
Research on B6 and multiple sclerosis is limited, and there is little
scientific support indicating vitamin B6 supplementation can prevent MS
Vitamin B12 is important for
the proper function of nerve cells, red blood cells, the brain, and many other
body parts. Deficiencies lead to weakness, weight loss, numbness and tingling
in hands and feet, balance problems, confusion, memory problems, and even nerve
damage (ODS, 2011).
People with MS may be more likely to develop a B12 deficiency, making
supplementation a good option for some individuals (Biswas, et al., 2012; Zhu, He, & Liu, 2011). Together,
vitamins B6 and B12 may be important for eye health. However, there is
insufficient evidence to connect vitamin B12 supplementation to improved MS
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid,
is an important player in the function of the immune system. It is an
antioxidant that may not be absorbed as well by individuals with MS. Although
vitamin C deficiencies are rare, they can cause serious problems (depression,
tooth loss, fatigue, joint pain, and even death) (ODS, 2011).
Some research indicates that ascorbic acid is essential to eye health and the
prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts (ODS, 2011).
Some evidence suggests that vitamin C’s antioxidants may help protect
individuals with MS from deterioration (Odinak, Bisaga, & Zarubina, 2002), but more research is needed.
Vitamin D is essential for
bone, muscle, nerve, and immune system health. Most people obtain vitamin D
from sun exposure, fatty fish, and fortified foods and drinks. Mounting
research suggests a strong connection between vitamin D levels and the development
and progression of MS (Dorr, Doring, & Paul, 2013).
Sun exposure and monitored vitamin D supplementation is becoming a more common
recommendation for the treatment of MS (Holmoy, et al., 2012). More
research is necessary, however, before the practice becomes standardized and
the strength of vitamin D’s effects on MS is fully understood.
Vitamin E is an important
fat-soluble nutrient and antioxidant. It is essential for immune system health
and preventing blood clots. Vegetable oils, nuts, and green vegetables are the
best food sources of vitamin E (ODS, 2011).
The antioxidant abilities of vitamin E have been of interest to researchers for
their potential protective role in MS (Butterfield, et al., 2002).
People with MS may already have low levels of vitamin E (Salemi, et al., 2010).
However, there is not enough research on vitamin E and MS to know whether it is
a truly effective treatment option for MS symptoms.
Wood betony, or Stachys lavandulifolia, has
traditionally been used as a tea to treat respiratory and digestive problems.
Wood betony oil has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties (Iscan, et al., 2012). Early
research suggests it may have the potential to fight other disease-causing
processes (Basaran, et al., 1996), but more research is needed to understand whether
wood betony may be useful in treating MS symptoms.
This plant may have
anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties (Cheeke, Piacente, & Oleszek, 2006). Yucca also has anti-platelet effects and antioxidant abilities (Olas, et al., 2008). It has
not been well studied for its impact on MS symptoms specifically.
Zinc is a mineral that is
necessary in small amounts for human health. It is used to boost the immune
system, treat a variety of eye problems, address skin conditions, and even
fight viruses and neurodegenerative conditions. Research suggests many people
with multiple sclerosis may have a low intake of zinc (Ramsaransing, Mellema, & De Keyser, 2009). More research is needed, but it is possible that
some individuals with MS may benefit from the apparent promotion of eye health
and the neuroprotective effect of zinc (Organisciak, et al., 2012; Sobieszczanska, et al., 2012).
Understanding Herbs and Supplements for MS
On the whole, research into
natural remedies for multiple sclerosis (as with most other diseases) is
limited. Human trials must be based on significant lab and animal research
findings; the scientific process can be lengthy. In the meantime, people
interested in using herbal and supplement therapies should take extreme
caution. It is essential to discuss all plans to use alternative or
complementary therapies with a physician prior to making any changes in a
Many herbs and supplements
have strong medicinal properties. Because of this, they may interact with
prescription medications, other herbs and supplements, and even diet. Effective
MS treatments may vary significantly from person to person. Take the time to
build a sensible treatment regimen—then reap the benefits.