According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, symptoms can vary from fatigue and numbness to vision problems, bladder issues, difficulty walking and more; and individual symptoms can change over time, making the disease tough to diagnose. The progress and severity of MS is unpredictable, experts don’t know exactly what causes it, and there’s no known cure.
What we do know is that MS is a chronic, potentially disabling disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the protective coating (called myelin) that covers the nerves. That damage interrupts the communication between the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body.
Here’s a look at some of the latest research:
Foodborne toxin may trigger MS. New research presented at a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology adds to evidence that suggests a toxin produced by the bacterium clostridium perfringens — which is commonly found on raw meats and poultry and responsible for nearly a million cases of foodborne illness every year — appears to attack the same cells that are targeted in MS. The science is too preliminary to suggest MS is caused by food poisoning, but it raises the possibility that the bacteria could be involved in activating the disease, experts say.
Vitamin D may slow its progression. That’s one of the latest findings in research on the “sunshine vitamin.” Scientists at Harvard University found that having high D levels at early stages of MS tended to reduce disease activity and progression. Other research has suggested having healthy levels of vitamin D may lower the risk of developing MS and help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.
The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day for adults up to age 70 and 800 IUs daily for ages 71 and older. Large doses for an extended period of time, however, can lead to negative and unsafe side effects.
Memory may improve with training. More than half of people with MS experience cognitive changes, according to the National MS Society. Reports from a recent clinical trial conducted by the Kessler Foundation show that a specific type of memory rehabilitation improved learning in people with MS for at least six months after the training ended. A small, pilot study from the same research center suggests aerobic exercise may also help with memory. Current treatments for MS include medications and strategies to treat relapses, manage symptoms and slow the progression. Many more drugs and procedures are being studied, including stem cell transplants and even potential vaccinations.
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