Autoimmune Diseases: Spotlight on Multiple Sclerosis
An autoimmune disease is a condition that occurs when our own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. Autoimmune diseases are often considered medical mysteries.
They are considered mysteries for a few reasons. The symptoms are usually similar to other diseases so testing on multiple systems is often conducted before a diagnosis is found. Autoimmune disease can also be considered a mystery because it can be hard to determine whether genetic reasons are what's causing someone to have an autoimmune disease.
Today I want to focus on one specific autoimmune disease -- multiple sclerosis or MS.
MS causes damage to the brain and/or the spinal cord because the immune system has attacked these areas. The protective covering, the myelin sheath, of the nerves is removed. This covering is essential for the nerves to send their signals as well.
Multiple sclerosis is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 years of age. What can be challenging about the diagnosis is that the symptoms can vary depending on the area of the brain or spinal cord that has been affected.
There are several forms of MS. The most common is the relapsing-remitting form where a person will have period with no symptoms (remission) and then suddenly the symptoms show up again (clinical attacks).
The type of MS can change as the disease progresses. There are four forms. They are relapsing-remitting MS, secondary progressive MS, primary progressive MS, and progressive relapsing MS.
Characteristic of this disease are sensory changes which could include prickling or itching, tingling, numbness, and sometimes pain. The pain can feel like electric shock running down the back and into the arms or legs when the head is bent forward (Lhermitte sign).
There can also be muscle problems because of the nerve covering being removed, demyelination. This can show up as tremors, muscle weakness, muscle stiffness, difficulty with walking, and partial paralysis of the muscles.
There can be vision problems as well including blurred vision, double vision and sometimes vision loss, either complete or partial.
Even though there is no specific known cause as to why someone develops MS, more research is being done on the connection between stress and multiple sclerosis.
There appear to be correlations between stress and relapsing or worsening of symptoms during a clinical attack. There is also possibly a connection between stress and trauma during childhood and the development of MS.
Depression, fatigue and cognitive dysfunction often accompany attacks.
There hasn’t been any specific nutritional therapy developed in the treatment of MS, however malnutrition can exacerbate the symptoms.
My recommendation is to have a balanced whole food diet to optimize your nutrition. There has been some evidence that exercise can improve overall health in MS patients.