Dr Dale Peterson, multiple sclerosis, fats, B vitamins, diet, Swank

Multiple Sclerosis: A Multifactorial Disease

Multiple Sclerosis: A Multifactorial Disease

© 2001 Dr Dale Peterson; © 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

The onset is often insidious. A brief episode of blurred or double vision. Unexplained tingling or numbness in an extremity. A vague dizziness. The diagnosis may at first be illusive. When it is made the individual facing the challenge often experiences anxiety, depression or even despair.

Billions of dollars have been spent investigating potential causes and cures, but physicians are still taught that there is no known cause, no standard treatment, and no known cure.

I am no stranger to multiple sclerosis, in part because I grew up in central Minnesota. The incidence of MS doubles every 100 miles as one travels north. Moving seems to be of no advantage once a person has lived at a northern latitude for twenty years or more.

I observed the effects of MS in an aunt, whose condition declined steadily and resulted in severe disability and death and in an uncle who survived but contended with recurrent bouts of temporary disability.

The disease typically presents between the ages of 20 and 40. Onset after the age of 50 is quite rare. The course of MS varies widely from individual to individual. It is considered a disease of relapses and remissions. Attacks vary in severity and duration, but commonly leave the individual in worse condition than before.

The intermittent nature of the disease complicates the process of evaluating prospective treatments. Since remissions are unpredictable it can be difficult to know whether improvement was the direct result of a particular intervention or if improvement occurred spontaneously, independent of the treatment.

Although no specific cause of MS has been found a number of predisposing factors have been identified. When these factors are addressed long term remission and improvement often follow.

Diet plays a major role in the development and management of multiple sclerosis. The disease occurs most commonly in countries that consume large amounts of meat, dairy products & processed foods. The incidence is lowest in countries where the diet is high in oils, fresh fruits & fresh vegetables.

Roy Swank, M.D. of the University of Oregon noted this association in 1948. He began recommending that MS patients strictly limit their intake of saturated fat (fats that are solid at room temperature) and increase their consumption of fresh produce. He also encouraged his patients to include 4 to 10 teaspoons of plant-based oils in their daily diet.

The longest study published by Dr. Swank covered a period of 34 years. When non-MS causes of death were excluded, 95 percent of the individuals who had minimal disability at the start of the trial survived and remained physically active. Those who were moderately or severely disabled when they started the program did far better than those who did not follow the dietary recommendations. In contrast, only 20 percent of the people who did not follow Dr. Swank’s recommendations survived the study period and most of them became severely disabled over time.

It is agreed that the earlier interventions are made in the disease process the better individuals with MS will fare over time. I recommend that a vegan (meat, dairy & egg free) diet be instituted as soon as the disease is recognized. If desired, fish appears to be safe as a change of pace.

Food allergies or sensitivities can also play a role. The most frequently associated foods are milk and other dairy products, caffeine, tannin (found in black tea), refined sugar, gluten (wheat, barley, oats & rye), & corn. Traditional allergy testing is ineffective in identifying food allergies. Tests that look for increased levels of a substance called IgG have been introduced in recent years and are much more reliable.

Environmental chemicals are capable of interrupting the body’s normal metabolic pathways, something that can result in damage to the myelin sheath of nerves. This is the basic defect in multiple sclerosis. Food additives, chemicals in tap water, carbon monoxide, gas or diesel fumes, solvents, and gases from pressed wood and carpets have all been reported to trigger MS attacks.

Foods should be fresh and free of chemical additives. Drinking and cooking water should be filtered using a reverse osmosis system or distilled. Shower and bath water should also be filtered.

It is important to stand back from the tank opening when refueling a vehicle. If purchasing a manufactured home, recreational vehicle, or other structure containing a substantial amount of pressed wood, glues & other synthetic materials consider a one to two year old unit that has had time to discharge most of the toxic gases.

Mercury amalgam fillings have been suggested as a factor in a number of disease states. Multiple sclerosis may be significantly influenced by the presence of mercury containing fillings since the level of mercury in the spinal fluid of MS patients has been shown to be seven times higher than in healthy individuals.

If a decision to replace the fillings is made a dentist experienced in the procedure should be consulted. A large amount of mercury can be released into the system as the work is being done. Chelating agents, which bind to heavy metals and carry them out of the body, are often required during and after replacement of the mercury amalgams.

Geopathic stress may play a significant role in the development of multiple sclerosis. Low energy zones increase in frequency at more northern latitudes, paralleling the increased incidence of MS in those areas. French researchers have correlated extended exposure to low energy zones to the presence of MS. An individual knowledgeable in geopathic stress should be asked to evaluate sleep and work areas to determine if they are located in a low energy zone. If an area of geopathic stress is identified the bed or desk should be relocated to an area of higher energy.

Medical research has expended much effort in the search for a viral cause of multiple sclerosis. As yet no specific MS virus has been identified. Viruses from the herpes family, particularly the Epstein-Barr or the Human herpes 6 viruses, may play an indirect role. Levels of essential fatty acids are found to be very low following acute episodes of these viruses. Since essential fatty acid deficiencies are known to play a role in the development and the course of multiple sclerosis these and other viral infections may predispose an individual to MS later in life.

Essential fatty acid supplementation is extremely important in the management of MS. Flax, fish, evening primrose, black currant and borage oils are the primary sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Green leafy vegetables and spirulina are also good sources. I recommend one tablespoon of oil per one hundred pounds of body weight daily.

A number of vitamins and minerals are needed to efficiently utilize fatty acids. These include C, B3, B6, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. A broad-spectrum vitamin/mineral supplement (See the May, 2000, issue on Optimum Daily Allowances) should be taken. An additional B-complex vitamin should be taken two to three times daily. Since intravenous injections of vitamin B12 have proven effective in aborting exacerbations of the disease supplementing 1000 micrograms twice daily is recommended.


Since this article was originally written much has been learned about the role of the above nutritients in preventing deterioration of the myelin sheath in multiple sclerosis.  For more information see Homocysteine:  Repair and Maintenance.

Magnesium is not only important in assuring proper utilization of fatty acids, but low levels of magnesium are often responsible for muscle spasticity in the disease. 400 to 500 milligrams twice daily is generally sufficient, although higher levels may be required to counter spasticity. Magnesium intake should be decreased if diarrhea develops.

The amount of zinc in a high-potency multivitamin should be sufficient. 100 to 200 micrograms of selenium should be included in the daily regimen.

Systemic enzyme supplementation has also been shown to provide benefit. Enzymes are required to repair injury and reduce inflammation in the body. Enzymes treatments have been used in Germany for many years and quality enzyme supplements are now available in the United States and Canada. Response to enzyme therapy has been higher in individuals who have not previously received drugs that suppress the immune system.


Since the original publication of this article the role that mitochondrial dysfunction plays in the progression of multiple sclerosis has been discovered.  For information on mitochondrial function and support see Catch a Second Wind.

The benefit of medications in reversing the ravages of multiple sclerosis is largely unproven. Some, as in the case of immunosuppressants, can impede the effectiveness of agents that support the body’s healing mechanisms. Because of this I advise those fighting MS to begin with a nutritional approach before resorting to pharmaceutical agents.

The role of attitude and lifestyle in the management of MS should not be underestimated. Dr. Swank found stress second only to high saturated fat diets in predisposing individuals to multiple sclerosis. It is extremely beneficial to take an active role in controlling the process rather than entertaining feelings of helplessness. Legal problems, financial difficulties & conflicts at home can be very draining. Steps should be taken to move toward closure of challenges as they occur rather than allowing them to continue indefinitely.

Each of the above interventions will decrease the likelihood of relapse and deterioration over time. No one confronted with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis need wait for medical science to identify the cause and develop a cure. It is possible to take control of the process today and look forward to a long, active, and productive life.

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