I have MS and I’ve taken the medicine Copaxone. Last year, you said not to rev up my immune system with vitamins. Can you explain why and tell me what kinds of supplements are safe?” –R.T., Decatur, Illinois
A: Imagine looking into the mirror, but instead of seeing your sweet self, you see a creepy robber and then start punching yourself, and it hurts. That’s autoimmune disease — your immune system perceives its own tissue as an invader, then seeks to destroy it, little by little. With rheumatoid arthritis, the joints are primarily affected; with Hashimoto’s, it’s the thyroid; with MS, it’s the brain and spinal cord nerves and so on.
Avoid high doses of vitamin C, beta carotene, cat’s claw, echinacea, ginseng, among others. Why add fuel to the fire? Doing so may cause you to slip out of remission and into more misery. I think I heard someone just say, “Ah-ha!”
Copaxone has become a popular prescription drug choice for MS sufferers because it seems to spark some relief in patients, plus its side effects are reportedly less disabling. There are several other medications and your physician will know what’s right for you.
I’ll share some tips in the space provided, but there are so many other nutrients. Readers can subscribe to my weekly health newsletter for free (www.suzycohen.com) and I’ll send you more information and dosages on every column I write. For now, consider a gluten-free diet and any of these nutrients:
DHA: A type of essential fatty acid found in fish oils that helps nourish nerve cells and balance angry inflammatory chemicals. You often find this substance in fish oils that contain both DHA and EPA together. This is fine, however, it’s the DHA that is most important. You can find how amounts of pure DHA in cod liver oil supplements.
Since the brain is about 60 percent fat, it’s clear why a healthy fatty supplement like DHA is so important. Deficiencies of this fatty acid may increase your risk of depression, multiple sclerosis, inflammation, memory loss and even alcoholism. We also need healthy fats to combat the effects of all the bad fats we get in our diet. The DHA helps make all the neurons and cells communicate with one another better. It also reduces inflammation and cools the body off.
Vitamin D: The sunlight vitamin seems to help with MS; it’s because the sunlight helps your skin create vitamin D which ultimately forms a hormone in your body. When it becomes a hormone, it is called calcitriol and affects 200 genes, some of those genes are in charge of your immune system. This is why vitamin D helps balance the immune system and protect you from cancer according to some studies. People with MS, should take 5 – 10,000 IU cholecalciferol (or D3) if it’s okay with their doctor. The sun is fine too, you can’t overdo vitamin D when it comes from the sun. The problem is that heat, and hot temperatures make some people with MS much worse, so supplementation may be the best way to get vitamin D. One more thing, prescribed forms of vitamin D are not natural forms that the body easily recognizes. I may be going against the grain on this (conventionally-speaking) but I prefer natural vitamin D (cholecalciferol or D3), rather than prescribed forms which are usually D2 or some other unnatural form of D.
Melatonin: It’s your sleep hormone, and people with MS seem to lack it. In this case, I prefer synthetic versions of melatonin because the natural sources come from cow brains. I don’t recommend cow brain-derived melatonin because it could have contaminants in it. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that you naturally make when the lights go out and you fall asleep. When the sun shines in the morning, that’s the signal for your brain to stop making melatonin (and for you to wake up). In people with autoimmune disorders, especially MS, this circadian rhythm is off. Melatonin dosages of about 1 or 2 mg taken each night can help with sleep, and reduce inflammatory chemicals in the body.
Methylcobalamin: It’s a form of vitamin B12 that helps you remyelinate and it’s the remyelination process that helps people with MS the most. All it means is that you are recoating the sensitive nerve fibers. Most people know B12 as “cyanocobalamin” and they take it for energy. I don’t recommend that form because it is harder for your body to use and eliminate since it has a little ‘cyanide’ molecule on it. Don’t freak out, it’s not enough to hurt you, but it’s enough for me to recommend that you take the proper form of B12, the methylcobalamin. It’s easy to find in health food stores, you just have to get used to reading labels. Sublingual forms are just fine, or chewable tablets.
Padma Basic: This centuries-old formula was handed down from Tibet. It’s sold without a prescription in the United States, but overseas, this is a drug called “Padma 28.” It’s all natural, with 20 herbs and spices that balance your immune system and squash inflammation. The nerd in me examined this one-of-a-kind blend of herbs which includes ginger, valerian, clove flower, resurrection lily, heartleaf and others.
It helps autoimmune sufferers because it’s “cooling” to an immune system that’s on fire. It’s also great for the blood circulation and heart and has well-designed clinical trials to back its use in atherosclerosis, angina and heart failure. There are very few products that actually help put people back into remission with MS, this is one of them in my opinion.
Diseases that have names ending in “itis” are all inflammation states. Padma can help with any kind of “itis” like hepatitis, arthritis, thyroiditis, bronchitis — and get this, it might stave off a root canal (pulpitis)! Yes, there’s a study to prove it. Padma Basic is sold online at the Web site, www.econugenics.com or by phone at 800-308-5518. They even post their research for other scientific junkies like me.
N.A.C.: This stands for N-acetylcysteine and this turns into glutathione in the body. That’s important for people with autoimmune problems because glutathione cleans up the liver, and it sweeps away free radical damage in the body. People with MS are usually deficient in glutathione. One way to get this is by supplementing with N.A.C. (sold widely at health food stores) or to drink whey protein shakes.
Inosine: Inosine is usually associated with body builders. It increases muscle strength and performance, as well as energy and stamina. When inosine is taken in combination with D-ribose (Corvalen or Morningstar Minerals sells this), you really see improvements in people with MS who are dealing with poor muscle strength, lack of coordination, atrophy, leg pain, and weakness. Fitness experts recommend inosine to help with strength training.
Now, this may be a bit technical, but I realize some of you are going to print this and show it to your physician, so here goes: People with MS produce a lot of a substance called “peroxynitrates.” Peroxynitrates are damaging to the myelin. Uric acid is a scavenger and hunts down these bad “peroxynitrates” thereby inactivating them. Inosine MAKES the uric acid so you can see now, how inosine serves two purposes, one to improve muscle health and two, helps you reduce inflammatory chemicals which worsen MS.
Inosine is sold online, and in some health food stores. It helps your body make “uric acid” and people with MS are actually deficient in uric acid. You may have heard of uric acid before, in fact, people who have too much got a condition called gout and they have to avoid foods and supplements that raise uric acid. But people with MS have the opposite situation, they have very LOW levels of uric acid. Inosine is a supplement that is a precursor to uric acid and in a small study of 11 people, everyone who took the inosine supplements saw a halt in disease progression (remission). Three people actually improved. This may not be enough to recommend it to everyone with MS, but I think it’s worth a try. Not too much, remember, it can cause gout.
Dosages vary to a great extent ranging from 1,000 – 5,000 mg per day.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.