Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a confusing disease. It's thought that our variable and distressing symptoms are caused by the loss of myelin, the fatty substance that coats our nerves. This process occurs in the central nervous system and prevents our nerves from conducting impulses as they should. Pockets of scar tissue, which are called plaques or lesions, form in these areas of nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord, thus the name multiple sclerosis or "many scars."

After this, everything gets murky. To begin with, a lot of other conditions can cause these plaques. And the confusion surrounding MS continues, as there's no unanimous agreement as to what causes it. Many speculate that the loss of nerve myelination, called
demyelination, is caused by an autoimmune process in which the body's immune system "attacks" its own healthy tissue by mistake while trying to get rid of some foreign object such as a bacteria or virus. This theory has spurred drug companies to develop the current class of "immune modulating" drugs to treat MS. These medications (
Avonex, Betaseron, and Rebif) resemble the natural substance called interferon that your immune system produces in response to disease. It's not completely clear how these medications work, but it's known that they affect the immune system to help fight viral infections and prevent inflammation. (

It may well be that there is some autoimmune element in MS, but because there's no known way to cure an autoimmune disease, let's look at the process that we know causes the demyelination that wreaks so much havoc on our bodies-inflammation. Everyone seems to agree on one thing: MS is widely acknowledged to be an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. When I set out to solve the riddle of my MS, my thinking was that if this inflammatory process could be resolved, then the demyelination would also be resolved and my symptoms would go with it.

Inflammation's involvement in demyelination has been studied extensively and understood well for many years. But for some peculiar reason, this concept has not been followed to its logical conclusion-which is finding out what basic biological events cause inflammation and resolving them. (

Extensive research has shown that loss of key hormones starts the inflammatory cascade of events that can end in neurodegenerative disease. We need to consider that if loss of hormones causes the problem, then maybe replacing these natural substances to treat our symptoms makes a lot of sense. When our levels of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, thyroid, cortisol, and growth hormone are robust, we have little inflammatory activity in our bodies-no obvious signs such as aches, pains, swollen joints, or allergies. And, not surprisingly, when we add them back, the aches and pains and other symptoms of inflammation disappear.

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