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    You are here : Home » About MS » Multiple Sclerosis Treatments » Dr Bob Lawrence's Advice » Antioxidants and MS

    Antioxidants and MS

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    Antioxidants and MSFurther Information

    Antioxidants in the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
    The term, antioxidants, is a general term applied to a group of nutrient compounds (certain vitamins or minerals) which either act independently, or serve to support the function and activity of the antioxidant enzymes. Their purpose is to protect the body from the damaging effects of what are known as free radicals.

    Free radicals are small, highly reactive chemical groups, each of which has one or more unpaired electrons within the molecule. It is the presence of these unpaired electrons, which makes them so reactive and ready to combine with, or otherwise influence, other chemical structures or processes. In this way, they are capable of damaging, or otherwise disrupting, certain cell structures or biochemical processes within the body.

    The antioxidants thus provide protection from these various damaging effects. The most common free radical is, in fact, oxygen, which exists, in its most damaging form, as ozone. It is the action of sunlight on the products of petrol combustion, which produces low-level ozone, a critical pollutant in our towns and cities. Free radicals are also produced as a result of natural metabolic processes and increase greatly during periods of intense exercise or activity. There is also an increase in the production of free radicals resulting from situations of abnormal body temperature rise, for example, during a period of infection. Free radicals are also produced from combustion, as occurs in the burning of fossil fuels, including oil, petrol and coal.

    This is the main cause of pollution in towns and industrial areas. The free radicals produced include oxides of nitrogen and sulphur. It is also why smoking is so harmful. Burning tobacco produces an absolute torrent of free radicals which are inhaled directly into the lungs, causing not only direct harm to the lung itself, but also more widespread damage to the heart and blood vessels. These organs rapidly receive the free radicals by absorbing them from the blood in which they are transmitted.

    Ionising radiation, due to such as sunlight, is also a powerful inducer of free radicals. This is the reason why sunlight is a significant cause of premature skin aging in those having outdoor occupations or who persist in excessive sunbathing or use of artificial sunbeds.

    Certain chemicals too may act as free radical inducers. A wide range of hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, used in industry, plastics production, and medicine are effective in acting as free radical inducers.

    Free radicals, in excess, are active in causing oxidative cell damage. Smoking thus promotes damage to the lungs, the heart and blood vessels, producing cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) and hypertension (high blood pressure). Oxidation, due to the presence of free radicals, also causes the destructive conversion of the beneficial poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), producing potentially harmful saturated fats, which contribute to the pre-existing damage in the arteries. This damaging process thus reduces the presence of PUFAs, which would otherwise be available for use within the cell structure, for conversion to PGs, or the production of such as myelin, in the brain and spinal cord.

    The Antioxidant Enzymes: These are protective enzymes, which divert the free radicals away from the tissues that would otherwise be harmed by them. These enzymes permit and promote a series of chemical processes which allow the free radicals to be inactivated harmlessly out of the way. There is however, a limit to the body’s capability in this process, and that limit is exceeded by such unnatural processes as smoking tobacco! To a much lesser extent, excessive exercise in an untrained individual can also be harmful in a similar way.

    Superoxide dismutase (SOD): the first of three important antioxidant enzymes. This enzyme exists in two different forms: the first, and most important, is found throughout the body and utilises, as part of its structure, two minerals, zinc and copper. Within this context therefore, both zinc and copper may be considered as antioxidant minerals. Details of the necessary doses of these minerals are presented in the information sheet, “Zinc Deficiency and the Zinc Taste Test, available on request.

    The second form of SOD is found only in the region of a cell structure known as mitochondria. The mitochondria are responsible for the conversion of the chemical energy (from various food sources) to usable energy within the cell. Mitochondrial SOD incorporates two essential minerals: zinc and manganese. The recommended daily requirement for manganese is at least 1.5mg/day. In conditions where excessive fatigue and tiredness is a feature therefore, a suitable therapeutic dose would be 5mg/day.

    Glutathione peroxidase: This equally important enzyme permits the use of glutathione (a protein component of living cells) as an `oxygen carrier’ allowing free radicals to be harmlessly inactivated. This enzyme incorporates a vital, and often deficient, trace element, selenium. The recommended dose is 200 microgrammes (mcg)/day. Because the geological rock strata of Britain is low in selenium the average natural dietary intake is only 35mcg/day. In South Wales, which is a very low selenium area, the average intake is even lower, at only 25mcg/day.

    It has been suggested that the relatively high incidence of a range of cancers in Britain may be related to this low selenium intake. It has been found that the highest cancer rates exist in regions of lowest selenium availability. Conversely, it has equally been demonstrated that regions of the world, such as Texas, where natural selenium levels are high, have a very low cancer rate (other factors being taken into consideration). It has thus been proved, by extensive research, that a supplemental dose of selenium 200mcg/day, will reduce the risk of developing cancer by 50%. It is believed that this defensive function is due to the protection of the cell membranes and DNA by the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase.

    Catalase: This acts by converting hydrogen peroxide, produced by the normal processes of body metabolism, into its components, oxygen and water. In conditions where there is a disturbance of either fatty acid and/or PG metabolism due to gross inflammation of specific tissues, the balance can at least be part restored by providing an adequate supply of all the antioxidant vitamins and minerals. These include zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, as discussed above, together with the essential antioxidant vitamins, C, E and A.

    Vitamin C: This appears to be the most essential of the three. A suitable dose would be up to three grammes each day. Generally however, the optimum economic and therapeutic balance seems to be at a dose of just one gramme (1000mg) per day.

    Vitamin E: The optimum therapeutic dose of vitamin E is 400 international units per day. The power and therapeutic benefit of this dose was demonstrated by a major study at Addenbrook Hospital, Cambridge in 1996. It was found that in a group of patients who had suffered one previous heart attack, the risk of a second heart attack was reduced by 79% by taking vitamin E 400 int. units/ day. Vitamin E is therefore of specific benefit in protecting the heart and circulation. It is also effective in promoting the regeneration of blood vessels, thus restoring the circulation to regions deprived by thrombosis or atherosclerosis. Major studies have demonstrated its benefit in improving memory and cognitive ability in the elderly.

    Vitamin A: The safest means of obtaining vitamin A is by taking a natural source of beta carotene 15mg/day. This is readily converted to vitamin A in the body, as it is required. Vitamin A is also contained in fish liver oils, together with vitamin D. The content of vitamin A in cod liver oil is 5000 units per gramme of oil. Thus, in young women who are, or are likely to become pregnant (where an excess of vitamin A might cause foetal abnormalities), the limit of cod liver oil should be a maximum of two grammes per day. The safe limit of vitamin A in pregnancy is considered to be 10,000 units/day. This risk may be eliminated by taking flax-seed oil, as an alternative to fish oil. Flax-seed oil contains the same N3 fatty acids as fish oil, but no vitamin A.

    The antioxidant nutrients are therefore necessary and beneficial in both health and disease. They may be used as a preventative against heart disease, auto-immune disease, atopic problems and cancer.

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC)

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