Natural Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive autoimmune disease that develops when immune cells mistakenly attack the protective covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord (myelin).

MS is not fatal, and the prognosis, in terms of how the disease progresses, is highly personalized; no two people with MS will experience it in the same way. There are also different types of MS, and some progress faster than others.

With proper treatment, the life expectancy of someone with MS is shortened by only a few months compared with the general population.

What Does MS Feel Like?

When a person has MS, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • A squeezing sensation around the torso (sometimes called the "MS hug")
  • Blurred vision, poor color vision, and eye pain
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Difficulties with walking
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms, legs, face, or body
  • A decline in brain function
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction

The current treatments for MS often involve disease-modifying therapies (DMTs), medications that can reduce the frequency of symptom relapses and slow the progression of the disease. Other medications can also be used to address specific symptoms.

Read on to find out more about the natural treatments available for MS, including the role that vitamins and herbs can play in managing the condition.

Man examining a green leaf in laboratory.

Solskin / Getty Images

Diet & Supplements

Research has shown that nutrients and diet play a role in the progression of MS. Taking certain supplements or making dietary changes can help manage the disease.

Before trying any supplements, talk to your doctor. They can tell you which supplements to take, how much to take, and how often to take them.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (it is absorbed through fats and stored in fatty tissue and the liver). Since vitamin D affects how well the immune system functions, it is thought that it can help people with MS by reducing inflammation, encouraging proper immune function, and reducing the breakdown of tissue within the nervous system.

Vitamin D assists the body in absorbing calcium, so if too much vitamin D is taken for a long time, it can lead to a buildup of calcium in the blood. Excess calcium can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. If the problem is not addressed, bone pain and kidney problems can also develop.

Calcium

Although more research is needed, some preliminary studies have found that low levels of calcium are associated with MS. Since calcium is important for bone health, ask your doctor about getting your levels checked if you have MS.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the production of myelin. Since vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people with MS, supplementing can help maintain proper levels in the body.

Research has shown that taking vitamin B12 can help people with MS improve their overall well-being and may reduce the visual and auditory symptoms associated with the disease.

There are no documented side effects associated with the use of vitamin B12, and since it is water-soluble, any amount that does not get used by the body is flushed out. 

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 keeps the brain, immune system, and nervous system healthy. While the research is limited on the use of vitamin B6 as a possible complementary treatment for MS, some studies have found it to be beneficial in reducing inflammation and repairing myelin.

Vitamin B6 Risks

You should always speak to your doctor about taking vitamin B6 because taking high amounts for a year or longer has been shown to cause severe nerve damage in some people. Other symptoms of too much vitamin B6 can include increased sensitivity to light, nausea, heartburn, and painful skin patches.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A may slow the progression of MS by reducing inflammation and suppressing the action of immune cells that cause damage.

Since vitamin A is fat-soluble, it can build up in the body. If levels become too high after long-term use, people may experience coarse hair or hair loss, cracked lips, and dry and rough skin. In severe cases, liver damage can also occur.

Vitamin C

Research has found that vitamin C plays a role in stimulating the formation of myelin. It is thought that the vitamin also has the ability to act as protection for the neurological system.

The exact dosage of vitamin C for MS is not established; however, high doses are unlikely to cause problems because any amount that the body does not use is excreted quickly. 

Vitamin E

Peroxidation—a process that can result in cell damage—can happen in people with MS. Taking vitamin E can reduce the effect, which makes it a good choice for a complementary MS treatment option.

Vitamin E Risks

Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin that can build up in the body and cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, and easy bruising and bleeding.

There are also other supplements that might be beneficial for people with MS that are not vitamins.

Coenzyme Q10

Studies have found that people with MS might be able to better manage symptoms of fatigue, inflammation, and depression if they supplement with coenzyme Q10.

Although not everyone will experience side effects when supplementing with coenzyme Q10, there are some to look out for, including nausea, stomach upset, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. It has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cause skin rashes.  

Lipoic Acid

The progression of MS is largely influenced by inflammatory processes in the body. Oxidative stress (an imbalance of dangerous free radicals and good antioxidants) can enhance those processes.

Taking lipoic acid may improve oxidative stress in the body, thus reducing the overall levels of inflammation. That being said, more research is needed on the use of lipoic acid in people with MS.  

Selenium

Selenium is typically associated with its protective role against heart disease and cancer, but it has also been shown to help with the health of the immune system and eyes.

Some research suggests that selenium may regulate the immune response against the central nervous system, which would be a benefit to people with MS. That being said, more research is needed to confirm the effects of selenium on MS.

Cranberry Juice

Although cranberry juice cannot slow disease progression or reduce relapses, it has been shown to improve bladder function and reduce urinary tract infections (UTIs). In people with MS, drinking pure and diluted cranberry juice (with no added sugar) may relieve bladder symptoms.

There are no known side effects associated with drinking cranberry juice for the bladder symptoms that many people with MS experience.

Is There an Ideal MS Diet?

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests that people make positive and healthy changes to their diet that would be beneficial to their overall health. These include eating more whole foods and fruits and vegetables, as well as avoiding processed foods and added sugars. Some people with conditions like MS benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet.

 Some tips for eating well include:

  • Preparing your meals at home as often as you can
  • Using colorful and fresh vegetables and fruits in your meals every day
  • Eating whole grains as opposed to refined grains
  • Avoiding processed foods and added sugars

When considering your intake of vitamins and minerals, there are specific foods that you can add to your diet that will help you get the proper amount of each every day. Foods that are high in each nutrient include:

  • Vitamin D: Fatty fish, foods fortified with vitamin D such as dairy products or orange juice, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks
  • Calcium: Milk, cheese, curly kale, okra, other dairy products such as yogurt
  • Vitamin B12: Beef liver, chicken, fish and shellfish, low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Vitamin B6: Pork, chicken, turkey, peanuts, soy beans, oats, bananas
  • Vitamin A: Beef liver, sweet potato, carrots, black-eyed peas, spinach, broccoli
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, turnip, sweet and white potatoes, tomatoes
  • Vitamin E: Sunflower oil, almonds, peanuts, beet greens, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin, red bell pepper

Herbal Supplements

There is some evidence that taking herbal supplements might be beneficial for some people with MS in terms of managing their symptoms.

Before you try an herbal supplement, talk to your doctor. They may interact with medications that you are taking. For example, St. John's wort can interact with antidepressants and medications that are used to thin your blood (anticoagulants).

  • Valerian root: Although there is no research showing that valerian root slows disease progression in people with MS, it could help treat insomnia in those who have trouble sleeping because of their symptoms.
  • St. John’s wort: The use of St. John’s wort for MS has not been heavily researched; however, some studies have shown that the herb may help address symptoms of depression and inflammation (both of which can occur in people with MS).
  • Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo biloba is another herbal supplement that people with MS can take to help address symptoms such as fatigue and a decline in brain function. One study showed that the herb can reduce fatigue without any adverse side effects (the dosage used in the study was 240 milligrams (mg) per day).
  • Green tea: The plant compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is found in green tea, has been shown to improve muscle metabolism in people with MS. The study gave participants 600 mg of the compound per day for 12 weeks. No adverse effects were reported.
  • Ginseng: Taking ginseng has been shown to reduce fatigue in people with MS, which improved their quality of life. There were no known side effects reported in the study (the dosage taken was 250 mg/day).
  • Boswellia: People with MS who took 600 mg of boswellia were found to have an improved memory at the end of an eight-week study. 
  • Cannabis: Cannabis has been gaining traction as a potential treatment for MS. Recent research has shown that people with MS who use cannabis in the form of capsules saw an improvement in muscle stiffness, memory, bladder control and urination frequency, and sleep.

Herbal Supplements to Avoid

While some herbal supplements can help MS sufferers cope with their symptoms, others should be avoided. For example, echinacea is used to help strengthen the immune system, but since the damage caused in MS is from an overactive immune system attacking myelin, the supplement could actually do more harm than good.

Exercise

Exercise is another way to manage MS, but it has to be the right kind and intensity for you. Some exercises that have been shown to aid in the management of MS symptoms include:

  • Strength training: Strength training can strengthen the muscles, which leads to an improvement in fatigue and disability in people with MS. Range of motion is also improved by strength training.
  • Yoga, Qi Gong, and tai chi: Practicing these exercises can affect your physical and mental wellness. They can reduce stress and help you feel more focused, as well as improve balance, strength, and alignment (areas where people with MS may experience difficulty). They can also help people with MS maintain mobility. 
  • Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercises like walking, gardening, or dancing can improve heart health in people with MS as well as boost their mood and quality of life. They can also reduce fatigue and improve lung health.

Exercises to Avoid If You Have MS

Exercise can be beneficial, but doing strenuous or intense exercise for long periods can exacerbate symptoms, bring on fatigue, and lead to injury. You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise three days a week.

Mental & Physical Stress Management

Research has shown that stress—both physical and mental—can be a trigger for MS symptoms. That is why managing your levels of stress is crucial to managing your disease. Some mental stress management techniques can include:

  • Therapy: There is a plethora of research on the positive effects of therapy for MS. Engaging in psychotherapy can help people manage the stress and mental/emotional aspects of the disease and help them learn to cope more effectively.
  • Meditation: Meditation has been proven to calm the mind. People with MS could benefit from the practice because it reduces stress. One study found that meditation could reduce pain levels and improve overall health and quality of life in people with MS.
  • Journaling or another form of self-expression: Engaging in some form of self-expression can help you cope with having MS. The activity you choose does not have to be specific; anything from writing in a journal to painting can reduce your stress and bring you mental calmness.

There are also some physical stress management techniques that can be beneficial for people with MS.

  • Massage: More research is needed to confirm the effects of massage therapy on people with MS, but one small study published in 2016 found that it could reduce pain and fatigue. This, in turn, improved the quality of life for the participants of the study. Another study looked at massage therapy or managing emotional stress and found that the participants had an overall feeling of well-being after having a massage.
  • Acupuncture: According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, people who undergo acupuncture therapy may experience a reduction in MS symptoms such as pain, muscle stiffness, numbness and tingling, depression, and bladder problems.
  • Magnet therapy: Magnet therapy involves the use of magnets to treat MS symptoms. Studies on using magnet therapy for MS symptoms have shown it can reduce the numbness and tingling sensation symptoms that many people with the disease experience.
  • Reflexology: A 2017 study showed that reflexology—a type of massage that focuses on certain pressure points to help restore energy flow in the body—can relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression in women with MS.
  • Isolation tanks: Isolation tanks (sensory deprivation tanks) are designed to restrict the amount of stimulation around you. By cutting off all external forms of stimulation, the tank is thought to relieve pain and reduce anxiety symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. However, there is limited evidence on the use of isolation tanks specifically for MS.

Before You Try Natural Remedies

Before you stock up on vitamins, herbs, or other forms of natural healing techniques, speak to your doctor. They will determine whether or not it is safe to take certain supplements with your current medications. They can also advise you on exercises and stress management techniques that might be helpful for you.

Summary

The use of natural treatments can be a great way to augment your MS treatment, but keep in mind that these options will not replace any medications that your doctor wants you to take. You need to stick to the treatment plan your doctor has given you to help manage and slow the progression of the disease.

A Word From Verywell


Talk to your doctor before trying any supplements or making lifestyle changes to help address your MS symptoms. They can work with you on finding the best natural and pharmaceutical treatment plan to address your symptoms and manage the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it safe to combine natural treatments with pharmaceuticals?

    In some cases, combining your MS medications with natural treatments is safe. However, there are some supplements that may interact with the medications you're taking or make them less effective. You should always talk to your doctor before trying anything new.

  • How much research has been done on cannabis and multiple sclerosis?

    Although the medicinal use of cannabis has only recently been legalized in many states, research on the use of cannabis in people with MS is ongoing. People looking to complement their treatment plan with cannabis can talk with their healthcare providers about the risks and benefits of doing so.

  • What essential oils are good for treating MS symptoms?

    Using essential oils for treating MS symptoms can be beneficial if you choose the right oils and use them correctly. Limited research suggests that the best essential oils for MS symptoms are lavender, peppermint, bergamot, rosemary, and sweet orange.

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