Many studies over the years have suggested a key role for omega-3 fatty acids in the development and progression of MS.
From Swank’s original work in Norway finding a low incidence of MS where fish was the main animal product in the diet, to large population studies and some clinical trials, it has always seemed likely that increasing omega-3 consumption could reduce the risk of developing MS in vulnerable people, and slow the rate of its progression.
A key issue
One of the key issues that has been discussed and analysed has been what type of omega-3s have a positive effect . The HOLISM study from the Neuroepidemiology Unit in the University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health was the first to note that plant-based omega-3s had a strong association with better health outcomes for people with MS, compared to fish oil.
While the OMS Recovery Program has long suggested the most concentrated source of plant-based omega-3 as the ideal omega-3 supplement, many have not been convinced by this research, and continue to promote fish oil.
Now world-class research from Norway and Harvard University has added compelling evidence to the argument for flaxseed oil supplementation.
Examining data on nearly 175,000 nurses from the long-running US Nurses Health Study, these researchers found that those consuming the most polyunsaturated fatty acids at baseline had one-third less risk of developing MS over the course of the study than those consuming the least.
But most interesting was that when the researchers looked at individual fatty acids, the only one that was associated with this reduced risk was alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid found in very high concentrations in flaxseed oil. Those in the highest intake group of ALA had nearly 40% lower risk of developing MS.
The fatty acids found in fish oil (EPA and DHA) had no association in themselves with reduced risk. The somewhat unexpected HOLISM finding that only flaxseed oil and not fish oil was associated with better health outcomes (less disability, better quality of life, less depression, less fatigue, fewer relapses) for people with MS has now been reinforced by this important finding from the US Nurses Health Study.
The HOLISM investigators have said that they feel that the equivocal results for fish oil are probably because the product is generally a poor quality one, often rancid, and poorly produced and stored, whereas flaxseed oil from a reputable supplier is a much higher quality oil, and that this may explain this apparent lack of benefit from fish oil.
Whatever the reasons behind these results, it is heartening to see the OMS Recovery Program’s basic tenets reinforced. It is also worth noting that after this latest research, those at increased risk of developing MS (that is close family members of people with MS) should not only take vitamin D supplements to have the best chance of reducing their risk of developing MS, but also flaxseed oil.
Flaxseed and MS
Supplementing your diet with flaxseed is a powerful health boost because it contains a whole host of nutrients including lignans, fibre and a very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids — a key ingredient in MS healing. Flaxseed also reduces harmful cholesterol levels, prevents heart disease and helps to protect against illnesses caused by inflammation.
Professor George Jelinek found that by supplementing your daily diet with flaxseed oil you can reduce your MS relapse rate by up to two thirds. Flaxseed oil benefits MS in both a structural way (forming part of the body’s cell membranes) and through the immune system (instructing the production of immune signals to dampen down inflammation). Flaxseed oil supplements also help to protect and nourish the myelin sheath surrounding your nerves. All of this helps to manage your MS symptoms and slow progression. In our view, everyone with MS needs to be taking flaxseed oil every day.
What does flaxseed oil do
Our bodies can’t produce omega-3s naturally, which means that without supplementation, most of us aren’t getting enough.
Deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can relate to MS in the following ways:
Family and friends may notice changes in your behaviour
Scientific research has found that flaxseed oil is more beneficial than fish oil supplementation and that is why the OMS recommendation is for flaxseed oil. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Your bottle of flaxseed oil always needs to be kept cold for maximum nutritional value and you must never heat it. You can take it neat by the spoonful, stir it into porridge, mix it in a smoothie or use in the place of olive oil over salads and roasted vegetables. You can also look to replace any saturated fat in your diet with flaxseed oil.
We recommend that you need to be taking 20-40 mls (two tablespoons) of flaxseed oil per day.