Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. It interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body, and it stops people from moving. Symptoms range from numbness to tingling to blindness to paralysis and manifest differently in every patient. Over 2.1 million worldwide live with MS. In just the United States if family members and caregivers are included, MS affects nearly 3 million. More often than not, people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 – 45 and approximately half will experience chronic or acute worsening of their symptoms 10 – 20 years after diagnosis. Three out of every 5 people affected by MS are women.
MS is the most common neurological disease leading to disability in young adults. Thought to be an auto-immune disease which means the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissue, MS occurs when myelin, the insulating coating around nerve cells in the brain, is destroyed thereby causing these nerves to lose their ability to transmit signals to and from the brain effectively. MS is not considered a fatal disease and most people who have it experience a normal or near-normal life expectancy. There are four types of MS: Relapsing-Remitting (most common), Primary-Progressive, Secondary-Progressive, and Progressive-Relapsing.
The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Let’s take a look back to see how far we’ve come as well as a peek into the future of where MS treatment and research is headed.
A Look Back
Historically, common MS symptoms were fatigue, cognitive impairment, depression and mood swings. The “hot bath” test was the original diagnostic tool. Namely, if someone was thought to have MS they were put into a tub filled with hot water. If their symptoms worsened, it proved they had MS. Looking back to the early – mid 1800s, MS started to be recognized as a disease. Robert Carswell and Jean Cruveilheir independently discovered ‘strange’ damage to the spinal cord and Jean Martin Charcot, Father of Modern Neurology, was the first to not only recognize MS as a disease but also establish a way of diagnosing it. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s it was discovered that the myelin surrounding the nerve acts as an electrically insulating sheath and that through use of a lumbar puncture “also known as a spinal tap; a diagnostic medical procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to confirm or exclude conditions (Wikipedia),” MS was properly diagnosed.
At a point in time when only approximately 8% of patients were reported to survive beyond the age of 20 after the onset of MS, a woman by the name of Sylvia Lawry took out an ad in the NY Times requesting help for her brother who had MS. This led to 50 patients reaching out as they too were seeking a cure and together in 1946 they established the National MS Society.
During the 1950s – 1970s fellowship programs to train MS scientists were created along with research beginning on the steroid ACTH, which ended up becoming the first medication to hasten recovery from an MS relapse. During this time the MS Society convinced Congress to appoint a commission on MS, resulting in increased federal funding for MS research. This led to the first CT images and the first MRI pictures of a brain affected with MS being produced during the 1980s, revolutionizing how MS was diagnosed.
By far the most important year in MS history is 1993 which is when Betaseron, interferon beta-1b, was approved by the FDA for relapsing-remitting MS, becoming the first drug approved treatment that decreased the frequency of relapses and delayed progression of RRMS. Recently a study was done looking back 20 years at the effectiveness of Betaseron and it was shown that patients who began this treatment closest to onset ended up having the least amount of progression.
The 21st century to date has delivered a multitude of disease modifying therapies (DMT) including Novantrone (mitoxantrone), Tysabri (natalizumab), Aubagio (teriflunomide), Avonex (interferon beta-1a), Copaxone (glatiramer acetate), Gilenya (fingolimod), Rebif (interferon beta-1a), and Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) to name a few. It is incredible to realize that in less than 25 years we’ve gone from a single DMT to twelve (12) and growing. However until a cure, prevention, and repair are discovered, the goal of those with MS and that of the Society is not achieved.
At the beginning of 2015, the National MS Society launched their Wellness Initiatives in MS. In conjunction with the MS Society of Canada, they are jointly exploring the role of diet, exercise and cognition/mood as they relate to MS in response to the MS community seeking treatment, management, and/or preventative measures to their MS symptoms in conjunction to their DMTs.
Currently there is insufficient/inconclusive evidence to establish efficacy or effectiveness in MS with regard to specific diets, dietary supplements (e.g. Vitamin D), specific exercise programs, mindfulness, or other practices to reduce stress and/or depressive symptoms. There are also several barriers to overcome including cost, lack of effectiveness research, patient adherence, attitudes and varying opinions, etc. Yet, the Society is determined to overcome these obstacles.
The Society is determined to find solutions for people with MS. They have invested nearly $870 million in research, with $52+ million earmarked for this year. The Society has taken a worldwide leadership role by funding more research and impacting more lives than any other MS organization in the world. They’ve come a long way in 65 years and hopefully the best (cure, prevention, and repair) is yet to come within the next decade or two.
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.