Q & A: MS Alternative Treatments

Flaxseed is useful for treating ­multiple sclerosis

| July/August 1998

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar respond for this issue.

Multiple Sclerosis

Q. Your article “Treat yourself” (November/December 1996) says “...herbal adaptogens such as oatseed...[are] believed to ­protect and rebuild the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells.” Since I have multiple sclerosis, a disease in which portions of the myelin sheath are destroyed, I am interested in learning more. I started taking the oat seed extract, and I believe it has improved my energy, stamina, and disposition. Some doctors may say it’s all in my head. I say it’s the effect that counts.
S. M.
Minden, Nevada

Q. I have multiple sclerosis. My symptoms include pain, dizziness, and fatigue. Which herbs would be helpful and which would be harmful? I have heard echinacea is considered harmful because it makes the immune system stronger.
D. B.
Fresno, California

A. Despite years of intensive research, we still don’t know whether multiple sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune disorder or a chronic viral infection. Although many herbalists discourage using echinacea, astragalus, and other immune boosters for MS, I have been unable to find any published laboratory or clinical studies that show they are harmful, especially for short-term use. If, in fact, it turns out that a virus is the culprit, these may turn out to be beneficial adjunctive therapy.

One of the most useful plants for MS is flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum). Flaxseed oil is a ­significant source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Also found in certain algae and cold-water fish, EFAs are essential components of nerve membranes and have anti-inflammatory properties. Other helpful herbs include Siberian ginseng (Eleuther­ococcus senticosus) for stamina, licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) for adrenal support, and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), which improves brain function and can alleviate dizziness.

Oat extract (Avena sativa) has a long history of use as a nervous system tonic and appears to have calming and sedative properties.

—Robert Rountree

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