Last Tuesday, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine presented new research showing a link between severe nutritional deficiencies and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The Hopkins researchers presented this compelling evidence about the importance of diet in MS at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
In a moment, I’ll tell you which nutrients play an important role in MS. But first let’s back up…
Experts estimate more than 2.3 million people worldwide have MS. But most researchers still consider its cause a mystery. One of the strongest findings about what causes MS relates to where you live. In fact, data show your MS risk goes up the further you live from the equator.
For 20 years, researchers proposed every cockamamie idea to explain this strong association between geographic latitude and MS risk. But now, many experts accept the obvious conclusion that was hiding plain sight all along. You see, people with less exposure to strong sunlight generally have lower vitamin D levels and higher MS risk. Conversely, men and women with greater exposure to sunlight have higher vitamin D levels and lower MS risk.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends adult men and women up to age 70 take in a paltry 600 IU daily of vitamin D. But, as I told you earlier this month, we now know this IOM recommendation is too low by a factor of 10. In fact, mounds of research show you need 5,000 to 10,000 IU daily of this essential nutrient to ward of chronic diseases like MS–let alone achieve optimal good health. For this reason and many others, I always recommend everyone take at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
In the new study I mentioned above, researchers found women with MS also have lower levels of other important vitamins and minerals, in addition to vitamin D. They evaluated 27 women with MS and compared them to 30 healthy women without MS. All the women were between the ages of 18 and 60 years with normal body weight.
At the study’s outset, the women filled out surveys about their nutritional intake during the prior year. Then, the women began taking 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily for the first 90 days of the study.
Clearly, the Hopkins researchers who designed this study knew the importance of vitamin D–especially when it comes to MS–since they had all the participants begin supplementation.
But, over the course of the study, the researchers found that other nutrients besides vitamin D play a role in MS as well. In fact, they learned women with MS had lower levels of five key nutrients: folate, lutein-zeaxanthin, magnesium, quercetin, and vitamin E.
Women in the study with MS had an average intake of 244 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day. By comparison, women without MS had an average intake of 321 mcg per day. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for folate is 400 mcg per day. So both groups fell below even the government’s paltry RDA for this important B vitamin. But it goes to show that being a little deficient is better than being severely deficient.
Of course, folate and all the B vitamins play an important role in nervous system health. So it’s downright scandalous mainstream medicine doesn’t recognize the lack of adequate B-vitamin intake in the general population. Much less among men and women with nervous system disorders, such as MS. You find folate in abundance in beans and dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.
Women with MS in the study also suffered from low magnesium, another key nutrient. The RDA for magnesium is 320 mg per day. But in the study, women with MS had an average intake of just 254 mg per day. And the “healthy” women in the study barely met the RDA, with an average daily intake of 321 mg. Research shows magnesium can help improve headache pain and poor circulation, two common symptoms of MS. So clearly, someone with MS should make sure to get enough magnesium in the diet. You find it in dark, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds.
Lutein-zeaxanthin are key carotenoids that also come primarily from green, leafy vegetables. I helped discover their abundance in healthy foods, and their importance in human metabolism, while doing research with the USDA back in the mid-1980s. Studies show lutein is important for eye health and brain development in infants, so it makes sense they benefit the nervous system as well.
Quercetin is a key flavonoid found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. And we’ve known about its health benefits for decades. Nonetheless, the U.S. government never developed RDAs for lutein-zeaxanthin or quercetin.
To keep optimal levels of these nutrients, you should eat plenty of green-leafy vegetables and bright colored fruits every day. You can put them in salads and cooked side dishes. Go ahead and prepare them with natural butter and/or olive oil, if you like.
Lastly, women in the study with MS also had a lower average intake of dietary fat and vitamin E compared to healthy women. This finding makes sense since vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. In other words, you can’t get vitamin E from the diet if you don’t have enough fat in the diet.
Interestingly, the researchers didn’t seem to pay much attention to this finding about dietary fat and MS. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo that the government’s war on fat is a big, fat myth. Or perhaps they don’t know about the real hazards of a low-fat diet.
Instead, they made all the typical references about the “antioxidant” and “anti-inflammatory” properties of the vitamins and minerals in which the MS patients were deficient.
Indeed, experts think autoimmune-induced inflammation damages the protective coatings of nerve fibers called myelin. (Myelin essentially insulates the nerve fibers.) Therefore, anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals are as important to preventing MS as they are in preventing most other diseases.
But saturated fats and cholesterol build and maintain healthy myelin nerve sheaths in the first place. So starving your body of healthy dietary fats–or poisoning normal cholesterol metabolism with statin drugs–never made sense to me as a path to good health. And it might actually put you more at risk for developing MS.
Despite the study’s shortcomings, it’s still a good, solid step in the right direction. Finally, researchers in the U.S. are beginning to look at the importance of diet in the development of MS. And it’s about time. In Europe, they’ve paid close attention to the importance of “neuro-vitamins” for many years.
1.“Multiple sclerosis patients differ from healthy controls on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients from self-reported diet history,” American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, April 18-25, 2015 (www.abstracts2view.com)
2. “MS Linked to Lower Levels of Key Nutrients,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 3/3/2015