What and Why?
The great sophistication of your nervous system depends heavily on the speed with which electrical messages can pass down your main trunk nerves, from head to foot in a fraction of a second. It would take much longer but for the nerve’s insulating sheath, which enables messages to take seven league strides. That sheath consists of a train of specialized cells, each one flattened and wrapped round the nerve like a Swiss roll. Lined up close-packed along the nerve they look rather like a micro-miniaturized string of sausages. The insulating property of this sheath derives from many layers of the skin or membrane of these cells. Any defect of these membranes therefore has disastrous effects on nerve cell insulation, and these may be its only obvious consequence.
Multiple sclerosis is such a disease. Inflammatory patches appear on the insulating sheaths somewhere in your brain or spinal cord, slowing conduction there and causing havoc in your nervous functions downstream. The patch arises under stress of some kind such as tension, fatigue, exposure to micro-waves, sun-bathing, or acute dietary imbalance. Your body usually heals it afterwards with a little scarring so that you recover almost completely in a matter of weeks. But similar patches may occur again elsewhere in your nervous system, and the slight residual effects add up over the decades. Therefore if disease starts in your teens, it requires more urgent attention than the much milder effects that can begin in middle life. On the other hand, very slight neurological symptoms frequently arise in older people which never progress to disabling proportions and are often overlooked completely when you seek medical advice about them. These may turn out to be a very mild form of multiple sclerosis, surfacing as a feature of ageing in people who have successfully held the disease at bay throughout their youth.
Despite the vast efforts being made by charitable research foundations to establish the cause of the disease, this remains controversial. Unfortunately in many laboratories that effort is focused too finely on minute aspects of its biochemistry, hiding the wood behind the trees. Rivalry between some of the personalities involved has further hindered progress. The work of the Naomi Bramson Trust is particularly promising, however. Their findings are strikingly consistent, and suggest a practical approach to preventing the disease — along with many others, notably the most stubborn allergies. These diseases can only arise if you have inherited a clumsy way of making cell membranes, and may not break out even then. The clumsiness can be masked and corrected by dietary precautions. It can also be reliably detected by an electrical test on your red blood cells researched by Professor E. J. Field and confirmed by workers in four other laboratories up to now. This test should one day enable doctors to identify those who themselves inherit the clumsiness, as well as unaffected women who can convey it to their children. With this information we should eventually be able to prevent multiple sclerosis by dietary vigilance or supplementation throughout childhood, and perhaps throughout life.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. If you have the disease make contact with Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (71 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8TR), The Naomi Bramson Trust (The Science Park, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7EZ) and the Multiple Sclerosis Society (25 Effie Road, Fulham, London SW6 1EE). Their approaches differ and they do not at all see eye to eye. You will have to decide for yourself how to fit them to your own temperament and inclinations.
2. ARMS have sponsored the development of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment, now available at various centres throughout Britain. It is based on similarity of the inflammatory patches in multiple sclerosis with those of decompression sickness (diver’s bends), which led to the same treatment being tried for both. In some hands it has been very successful; hopefulness and charisma may very much affect the result. Whether or not its medical basis is sound it does no harm, and the psychological boost given by sharing in a positive self-help activity more than justifies it.
3. Eat the diet for health, keeping especially low on animal fats. Essential supplements are Evening Primrose Oil (Nature’s Own) or Blackcurrant Seed Oil (Glanolin — Lane’s) 500mg 2-3 times daily with Vitamin E 100 IU and ample water, half an hour before meals. This routine seems to reduce the severity, frequency and duration of attacks. Less essential but prudent additions are Vitamin C 1000mg twice or thrice daily, one strong B Complex or six Brewers’ Yeast tablets daily and a good multimineral. Vitamin B12 (Hydroxocobalamin, 100 microgm daily) and Folic Acid (5mg daily) seem to be particularly important and should be adequately represented in the Vitamin B supplement you choose.
4. Be wary of meetings with other sufferers to hear lectures from experts. Many who congregate there are far worse than you are ever going to be and may present you with a gloomy picture of the future. Active meetings for self-help or fellowship are much more wholesome.
5. Physiotherapy or osteopathy help a lot if you can afford it; learn the most useful exercises to continue at home. Yoga tailored to your needs by a sufficiently experienced teacher is more economical, develops your inner resources and fosters your self-reliance.
6. The Naomi Bramson Trust have developed the ‘erythrocyte unsaturated fatty acid’ test. This not only detects potential multiple sclerosis in any member of your family but also determines whether any of your female relatives could give birth to an affected child. This test is still under research but seems to be highly reliable. It is well worth while if the disease affects any of your blood relatives, because the best chance of preventing it occurs in children under 16 years of age who have not yet shown signs of their weakness. A full programme of the diet and essential supplements listed above should be maintained until their early twenties.
7. Beware of micro-waves and radar, strong sunlight, very hot baths, and stressful situations. All these are suspected or known to trigger attacks of multiple sclerosis in people who are genetically susceptible.