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Health Tips, Multiple Sclerosis

The Intersection of Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Immune System Impact

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex autoimmune disease affecting more than 2.8 million people worldwide. It disrupts the central nervous system, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, mobility problems, pain, and sensory disturbances. The hallmark of MS is the immune system’s attack on the protective coating around nerves, known as myelin sheath. This is a result of inflammation and causes a communication breakdown between the brain, nervous system, and the rest of the body, via nerve damage. 

The drugs to treat autoimmune and allergic diseases target different components of the immune system. The treatments may weaken the entire immune system or only very specific parts of it. How each of these drugs targets specific parts of the immune system may make the patient more likely to get certain infections. 

Before we look at common meds, let’s understand more fully how the immune system works. The immune system has two parts: innate and adaptive. The innate immune system is the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. These defenses include cells and molecules located at sites of entry for foreign invaders (the nose, lungs, gut, and skin). Immune cells make molecules called cytokines to communicate between different parts of the body. These cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) can be targeted to treat autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells because of a foreign bacteria, virus, pathogen is present or we have molecular mimicry. 

The adaptive immune system develops over time. Two types of white blood cells called T cells and B cells are important parts of adaptive immunity. When the body sees a new bacteria or virus, it makes T cells and B cells that recognize the invader and help the body to get rid of the infection. If the immune system is working well, the body then remembers that bacteria or virus after fighting off the first infection. 

Conventional medicine primarily focuses on symptom management and immune suppression. Common medications include: 

The first line of defense drugs are steroids. The most common of which are Prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone. How it works: Steroids stop the body from making cytokines that cause inflammation, deplete certain immune cells called T and B cells and eosinophils, and make it more difficult for immune cells to travel to spots of infection or injury through the body. 

Using steroids for a long time puts one at risk for many issues related to bone health, high blood pressure, blood sugar control, cataracts, and infections. Depending on how much steroid one is taking and how long one will be on it, one will be monitored for certain types of infections, including rare types of pneumonia. Antibiotics may be needed to help prevent some types of infections. These measures are normally not needed if one is on steroids for a short time. 

For those on long-term steroids, please speak with your physician before receiving vaccinations. 

  1. Interferon Beta Injectable Drugs: These were the first disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) approved for MS treatment. They hinder white blood cells (immune cells) from entering the brain and spinal cord, thereby slowing nerve damage progression but does nothing to address WHY the white blood cells are entering the brain and spinal chord. These drugs are actually leaving the body wide open to be further harmed by what the white blood cells are working so hard to address. Examples include interferon beta 1a (Rebif, Avonex), interferon beta 1b (Extavia, Betaseron), and peginterferon beta 1a (Plegridy)1
  2. Glatiramer Acetate (Copaxone, Glatopa): This medication helps block the immune system’s attack on myelin and must be injected beneath the skin2
  3. Fumarates (e.g., Bafiertam): These drugs have antioxidant properties and may dampen the overactive immune response seen in MS3

While these medications can provide relief, they impair (sometimes irreparably) the immune system and do not help the body address what is causing MS in the first place. They also come with adverse effects that can be worse than the MS: 

  1. Immune Suppression: Interferon beta drugs suppress the immune system, making patients more susceptible to infections and other immune-related issues1.
  2. Flu-Like Symptoms: Many patients experience flu-like symptoms after interferon beta injections, including fever, chills, and muscle aches1
  3. Injection Site Reactions: Glatiramer acetate injections can cause skin reactions at the injection site, such as redness, swelling, and pain2
  4. Gastrointestinal Disturbances: Fumarates may lead to gastrointestinal side effects like stomach pain and diarrhea3.

Functional medicine takes a holistic view, aiming to address the root causes of MS rather than merely managing symptoms. Here’s how it differs:

  1. Identifying Triggers: Functional medicine investigates environmental factors, toxins, and infections that impact the body and the central nervous system using targeted testing. Using those test results, begin remove harmful elements, such as inflammatory foods and intestinal infections like SIBO and yeast overgrowth and parasites, helping the body detox from heavy metals, mold toxicity, pathogens, balance hormones, optimize genetic sNps and anything else that is causing the immune system to be out of balance4
  2. Personalized Recovery Plans: Functional medicine practitioners tailor recovery plans to each patient’s unique needs. This includes lifestyle adjustments related to nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress management, detox and toxin avoidance5

Functional medicine offers hope for MS patients by addressing underlying imbalances. Rather than suppressing the immune system, it seeks to optimize overall health. By understanding the intricate connections between the gut, immune system, and nervous system, functional medicine provides a more effective and sustainable approach to managing MS. 

In conclusion, while conventional medications play a role in MS treatment, functional medicine offers a complementary path—one that aims to restore balance, enhance well-being, and empower patients to take charge of their health4. By embracing this holistic approach, we can unlock better outcomes for those living with multiple sclerosis.


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Source(s)

  1. A Guide to Multiple Sclerosis Medications1 
  2. The Immune System and Multiple Sclerosis6 
  3. Mayo Clinic: Multiple Sclerosis – Diagnosis and Treatment2 
  4. GoodRx: 10 Oral Medications for MS3

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