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Can Vitamins and Supplements Help MS?

Certain vitamins and other supplements hold promise for reducing MS lesions, but more research is needed. Here's what we know so far.

If you take vitamins or other supplements, you're in good company: More than half of all adults in the United States do, in hopes of avoiding nutrient deficiencies, staving off chronic disease, or improving health overall.

But do vitamins and supplements help with multiple sclerosis? The answer seems to be a resounding "We don’t know yet."

Vitamin D

Take vitamin D, for example. A study published in March 2014 in JAMA Neurology found that a higher level of vitamin D in the body predicted a slower progression of MS and fewer new lesions in people with early symptoms of MS.

In multiple sclerosis, a “lesion” is an area where the fatty layer of myelin that normally insulates and protects the nerve fibers has been damaged.

Ellen M. Mowry, MD, an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the 2014 study results are exciting because they confirm her earlier research, in which she found that low levels of vitamin D correlated with more lesions and more active disease.

However, though evidence is mounting, Dr. Mowry remains cautious about uniformly advising people to take vitamin D supplements when they have MS. “As practitioners, we want to make sure we apply the best scientific evidence,” she says, “and all of the clinical trials are still ongoing, so we really still don't know whether supplementing vitamin D helps.”

To naturally increase your levels of vitamin D, you can:

  • Eat vitamin-D-rich foods such as fatty fish, liver, fortified milk, and fortified cereals.
  • Get moderate amounts of sunlight, on the order of 15 to 30 minutes a day. Your body can make vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, but remember that too much exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can lead to skin cancer.

Before taking vitamin D supplements (or any other supplement), be sure to talk with your doctor, advises  Kathleen Costello, MS, associate vice president of clinical care for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This will help you avoid any negative drug interactions.

Other Vitamins and Supplements

Here’s what is known about some other vitamins, minerals, and herbs that have been studied in people with MS:

Antioxidant vitamins. The body’s cells use oxygen to function. When they do, they release unstable molecules known as free radicals that can cause tissue damage. Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, scavenge for free radicals and can prevent that damage.

Antioxidants are readily available in healthy foods — vitamin A in brightly colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, squash, cantaloupe, peaches, apricots, and broccoli; vitamin C in citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and strawberries; and vitamin E in nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetable oil, and green leafy vegetables.

Although they are important for overall health, however, whether antioxidants can improve the course of MS is still under inves­tigation, Mowry says.

B vitamins. Vitamin B12 supports red blood cell production and nervous system function. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms similar to those seen in MS.

However, while some earlier studies have suggested an association between vitamin B12 deficiency and MS, a study published in April 2012 in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found no such relationship.

Consequently, the researchers advised against routinely testing people with known MS for B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 supplements have not been shown to improve symptoms of MS or to alter the disease.

Selenium. Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties that is found in seafood, legumes, whole grains, meats, and dairy products. People with MS may have lower levels of selenium than people who don't have the condition.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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