Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Multiple Sclerosis: Understanding the Science Behind the Benefits
Article by Arnie Gitomer Jun 25, 2023Managing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be difficult and often involves many concurrent clinical approaches. However, omega-3 fatty acids have shown great promise in treating multiple sclerosis due to their role in myelin sheath repair and decreasing inflammation.
Understanding Multiple SclerosisThe body’s immune system serves an essential function by protecting the body from foreign antigens that cause disease and infection. Normally, this protection eliminates the antigen to restore the body. But if the immune system cannot distinguish between the body and foreign antigens, it may attack itself. Many diseases result in this, collectively known as autoimmune disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, neurological, inflammatory, and autoimmune disorder. This disease commonly impacts adults and can result in major disabilities. It is the most common progressive neurological disease affecting adults.
Common symptoms of MS include:
- Numbness or weakness of the limbs, typically on one side of the body at a time
- Electic-shock sensations with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward
- Lack of coordination
- Unsteady gait
- Inability to walk
- Partial or complete loss of vision, often in one eye at a time
- Pain during eye movement
- Blurry vision or double vision
- Sexual, bowel, or bladder dysfunction
- Slurred speech
- Cognitive problems
- Mood disturbances
MS affects neurons, which are surrounded by a fatty layer called the myelin sheath. Multiple sclerosis causes the degradation of the myelin sheath throughout the spinal cord, which results in neuron death.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Treating this disease often focuses on reducing relapses, speeding recovery from attacks, managing symptoms, and slowing the progression of the disease.
Several disease-modifying therapies and aggressive treatments with these medications can lower the relapse rate, slow the formation of new lesions, and potentially reduce the risk of disability and brain atrophy. Treating the symptoms of MS is usually done through physical or occupational therapy and a combination of medications that may relax the muscles, reduce fatigue, or increase walking speed.
Understanding Omega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-3 fatty acids are crucial fats that people must get from their diet. They play an essential role in the body and have several health benefits. These acids help all of the cells in your body function as they should by helping to provide structure to cell membranes and supporting interactions between cells.
While Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the entire body, they are especially important for the nervous, eyes, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems. Three types of Omega-3 fatty acids exist: EPA, DHA, and ALA.
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Lowering triglyceridese levels
- Reducing the risk of atherosclerosis
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Raising the HDL, or good, cholesterol level
- Lowering blood pressure
- Lowering the risk of arrhythmia
- Reducing the risk of blood clot formation
- Reducing the risk of some forms of cancer, including breast cancer
- Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Lowering the risk of macular degeneration
- Improving symptoms of mental health or mood disorders, including postpartum depression and bipolar disorder
Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids include fatty or oily fish, fish oil, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, plant-based oils, and walnuts. If you are not consuming enough of these foods, consider taking Omega-3 supplements. The health benefits are tangible for everyone, including people with multiple sclerosis. Most experts recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day for adults, which can be obtained from about 8 ounces of fatty fish per week. However, higher amounts may be recommended for people with certain health conditions. Therefore, discussing the ideal dosage for you with your healthcare provider is vital.
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Impact Multiple SclerosisA recent study of multiple clinical trials found that individuals with MS with higher levels of the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA experienced significantly fewer symptoms of muscle weakness, loss of balance, uncontrolled movements, tremors, speech and vision difficulties, and memory loss.
An additional study found that Omega-3 supplements may benefit a subgroup of MS patients with increased activity in an inflammatory pathway referred to as type 1 interferon response. In addition, omega-3s can dampen the interferon response, which may reduce inflammation, even in those with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Omega-3 fatty acids can aid as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for MS. These acids can assist in forming cell membranes and making them more pliable. They can also reduce overall inflammation and help protect the integrity of the myelin sheath of neurons.
Many people with MS have found the benefit of increasing their daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. But supplements may interact with certain medications. You will want to consult with your physician if you want to add supplements to your treatment regimen. In most cases, more Omega-3s can help manage MS symptoms.
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