Multiple Sclerosis and Fatty Acids


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Multiple Sclerosis and Fatty Acids

Epidemiological studies over the last few decades have revealed that Multiple Sclerosis strikes much more frequently among those living in the higher latitudes than among those living closer to the equator. In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that individuals living above the 37th parallel have nearly double the risk of developing the disease.

One possible explanation given by researchers is that reduced exposure to sunlight in higher latitudes alters normal secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland, creating an immunosuppressant effect that sets the stage for developing the disease.1 Others have suggested that the lack of sunlight spurs chronic Vitamin D deficiencies that initiate the cascade of immune events causing MS.2

However important the role of sunlight, most researchers suspect that dietary factors are also strongly involved in this geographic distribution pattern. Japan is, after all, a notable exception to the high latitude/high MS incidence relationship, having an extremely low MS rate (although native Japanese who move to Hawaii experience an increased incidence of MS). Moreover, inland areas of Norway have a much higher MS rate than coastal areas of Norway, and the Faroe Islands experienced virtually no cases of MS among its native population until it came under Western influence and their indigenous diet changed.

The common dietary factor apparent in these regional exceptions to the high latitude "rule" for MS is a higher consumption of fish, combined with a lower consumption of meats, grains, and dairy products. Indeed, a multivariate analysis of MS risk factors in the U.S. found higher meat and dairy consumption and lower fish consumption directly correlating with increased MS risk.3 More specifically, Belgian researchers examined mortality rates for MS and found that a relatively low ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats was independently associated with MS fatality.4

Fatty acids are highly concentrated within the tissue of the central nervous system. Two polyunsaturated fatty acid groups, omega-3 and omega-6, are believed to play a crucial role in the etiology of MS. Deficiencies of these essential fatty acids (EFAs) can seriously impair myelin synthesis5--the dysfunctional mechanism that triggers MS. The balance of these EFAs also influences the production of locally acting hormones called eicosanoids, which modulate the inflammatory symptoms in MS and other degenerative conditions.1

In fact, whether the body uses eicosanoids to produce pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory leukotrienes is dependant upon on the metabolic balance between omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Inflammatory leukotrienes have been singled out as the agents possibly responsible for disrupting the blood-brain barrier in MS--a pivotal dysfunction in the etiology of MS.1

Clinical examination of red blood cells and fat tissue of MS patients has revealed staggering deficiencies of omega-3 oils, including docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids.6 Other studies have called attention to suboptimal levels of omega-6 linoleic acid patients with MS--and noted that severity of attacks can be reduced with proper intervention.5 As David Perlmutter, M.D., a practitioner renowned for his treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, has pointed out, "Balancing essential fatty acids is one of the most critical tools in my treatment of patients with MS."7 It is generally believed that the earlier EFA imbalances are detected and treated in MS, the better the chances for a positive outcome.

Great Smokies' Essential and Metabolic Fatty Acids Analysis enables the practitioner to quickly and accurately pinpoint EMFA deficiencies, avoiding unnecessary guesswork with supplementation. Clinical results can be carefully monitored using this advanced laboratory analysis of packed erythrocytes, which provides a much more precise indication of actual EMFA status than plasma testing. The EMFA Analysis includes the critical ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats, which has been established as an independent factor negatively correlating with MS mortality rate.4

Related Information: Multiple Sclerosis and Melatonin


1 Hutter CD, Laing P. Multiple sclerosis: sunlight, diet, immunology, and aetiology. Med Hypotheses 1996;46(2):67-74.

2 Hayes CE, Cantorna MT, DeLuca HF. Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1997;216(1):21-27.

3 Lauer K. The risk of multiple sclerosis in the U.S.A. in relation to sociogeographic features: a factor analytic study. J Clin Epidemiol 1994;47(1):43-48.

4 Exparza MG. Sasaki S, Kesteloot H. Nutrition, latitude, and multiple sclerosis mortality: an ecologic study. Am J Epidemiol 1995;142(7):733-737.

5 Di Biase A, Salvati S. Exogenous lipids in myelination and demyelination. Kao Shuing I Hsueh Ko Shueh Tsa Chih 1997;13(1): 19-29.

6 Nightingale S, Woo E, Smith AD, French JM, Gale MM, et. al. Red blood cell and adipose tissue fatty acids in mild inactive multiple sclerosis. Acta Neurol Scand 1990;82(1):43-50.

7 Schmidt, Michael. Smart Fats: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical, and Emotional Intelligence. Berkeley (CA): Frog Books, Ltd, 1997; 143.

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