By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (September 3, 2009)—Smoking has a negative impact on the course of many diseases, and multiple sclerosis (MS) is no exception. The risk of developing MS is already known to be higher in smokers than nonsmokers; now, a new study has found that smokers with MS worsen more quickly than nonsmokers.
Smoking affects the entire course of MS
The study, published in the Archives of Neurology, followed more than 1,400 people with MS for about three years. Smokers entering the study had more severe symptoms and were more disabled than people who had never smoked or had quit smoking, and the degree of disease severity was higher in heavy smokers than light smokers. In addition, both smokers and ex-smokers were more likely to have had a more advanced stage of MS at the time of onset than “never-smokers.”
When the researchers examined the data from people who were in the earliest stage of MS when they entered the study, they found that being a current smoker was associated with more rapid progression to an advanced stage of the disease. They also noted more of an increase in the number and size of the brain lesions that are characteristic of MS, seen on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), in smokers than in never- and ex-smokers over the course of the study.
Smoke makes nerve cells vulnerable
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and damages the myelin coatings on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin is critical for nerve signals to be transmitted from cell to cell. Cigarette smoke’s toxic effects on nerve cells might make them more susceptible to immune attack, and its adverse effects on the immune system are thought to contribute to the rapid progression of nerve cell damage.
“The present findings provide additional evidence that smoking may adversely affect the underlying disease process in MS and suggest that these adverse effects may extend from the period preceding the clinical onset,” the study’s authors said. “These findings suggest that patients with MS who quit smoking may not only reduce their risk of smoking-related diseases but also delay the progression of MS.”
Protecting nerve cells
Quitting smoking is the number one priority for preventing or slowing MS progression. The following steps can add to the benefits of being a nonsmoker:
• Change your dietary fats. Cut out animal fats and hydrogenated oils, and add a teaspoon of cod liver oil per day. Dr. Roy Swank developed this protocol, which has successfully slowed disease progression and increased the lifespan of people with MS.
• Boost your vitamin D level by taking a supplement. People with higher vitamin D levels have a lower risk for developing MS, and results from animal studies suggest that vitamin D might be preventive.
• Take extra antioxidants. There is indirect evidence that taking selenium, bioflavonoids, and vitamins C and E can increase the levels of nerve-protecting antioxidants in the blood and decrease immune overactivity, which appears to contribute to the disease. Antioxidants might also help repair the damaging effects of smoking.
(Arch Neurol 2009;66:858–64)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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