She looked healthy.
The woman stood on the stage, vibrantly engaging a crowd of people. There wasn’t a hint of illness or a signal telltale sign that she had any health problems at all. She spoke about biking long distances and horseback riding. It was clear that she lived a full life. That made it quite a surprise to find out that she had once been confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis.
Her name was Dr. Terry Wahls. After being diagnosed with MS, she experienced seven years of declining health despite having the best medical care available. It wasn’t a miracle medication or a breakthrough medical treatment that took her from a wheelchair to speaking to an audience at TedxIowaCity. It was something most people would overlook when dealing with a disease like MS: diet. In her presentation, Dr. Wahls explained how the modern diet is lacking in the essential nutrients that our bodies need to remain healthy. One of those essentials that the Western diet is lacking the most is omega-3. After changing her diet to include those often missing nutrients, especially omega-3, the MS symptoms began to reverse to the point that she regained full mobility.
The part omega-3 plays in MS involves the myelin sheath. The role of myelin in the central nervous system is an extremely important one.
The myelin sheath wraps around and insulates the neuron. It is responsible for making sure impulses travel through the neuron quickly and get where they are supposed to go. In MS, the myelin sheath gets damaged and there is a disruption in the nerve impulse conduction. This causes muscle weakness, vision problems, numbness, and the loss of many bodily functions. Over time, the damage becomes worse and the symptoms get more severe.
Omega-3 is a major nutrient needed for myelin production, and Dr. Wahls strongly believes that the raised intake of omega-3 was one of the big factors in her recovery, with the scientific evidence backing her up. A survey of MS patients showed that she is not the only one who has experienced improvement due to a healthy increase in omega-3 intake. The survey participants who took omega-3 supplements or had a good amount of omega-3 in their diets had less disability and reported having a higher quality of life than those with smaller omega 3 intakes. They also had decreased disease activity with a lower relapse rate.
According to studies in 2009 and 2013, omega-3 is not only needed for myelin production, but it also has protective qualities that work against MS. One of these qualities comes from omega-3’s ability to suppress inflammation. The myelin damage seen in MS is caused by the immune system. Although the reason why the immune system kicks into gear is not entirely known, it begins sending inflammation attacks to the central nervous system. Each attack damages the nerves, especially the myelin sheath. The study in 2009 found that omega-3 regulated the inflammation attacks and may work as an immune-modulator. By keeping the immune system from sending the attacks to the central nervous system, it can lessen the amount of damage that occurs over time and can lead to a decreased rate of progression.
The other beneficial quality that omega-3 has when it comes to dealing with MS was found in the 2013 study. While omega-3 can’t stop every attack from the immune system, it can still lessen the severity of the damage. The study showed that omega-3 was able to prevent the loss of myelin protein, keeping the myelin sheath intact. This preserved the efficiency of the myelin sheath and maintained proper nerve conductivity.
Omega-3 has been hailed as a beneficial aid for a variety of different diseases and ailments. It’s an essential part of a healthy diet, and it’s clear that a deficiency of it can lead to a number of health problems. It has been seen to help with depression, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. With Dr. Wahl’s story and the growing scientific evidence, we can now add MS to that list.
Jelinek, G., Hadgkiss, E., Weiland, T., Pereira, N., Marck, C., & Meer, D. (2013). Association of fish consumption and omega 3 supplementation with quality of life, disability and disease activity in an international cohort of people with multiple sclerosis. Int J Neurosci International Journal of Neuroscience, 123(11), 792-801.
“Nerve.nida”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nerve.nida.jpg#/media/File:Nerve.nida.jpg
Pu, H., Guo, Y., Zhang, W., Huang, L., Wang, G., Liou, A., . . . Gao, Y. (2013). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation improves neurologic recovery and attenuates white matter injury after experimental traumatic brain injury. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism J Cereb Blood Flow Metab, 33(9), 1474-1484.
Shinto, L., Marracci, G., Baldauf-Wagner, S., Strehlow, A., Yadav, V., Stuber, L., & Bourdette, D. (n.d.). Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation decreases matrix metalloproteinase-9 production in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis,. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 131-136.
Tedx Talks. (2011, November 30). Minding your mitochondria | Dr. Terry Wahls | TEDxIowaCity [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/KLjgBLwH3Wc
Unknown (Photographer). (2014 Sept).Unnamed Omega-3 Capsules image[digital image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com