Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). More than 100,000 people in the UK have multiple sclerosis (MS) and more women than men are diagnosed with it. In any one person the symptoms can vary from day to day and it affects different people in different ways. It is not fatal and most people with MS live about as long as everyone else. There is a wide range of possible symptoms. Some of the most common for people who are newly diagnosed are fatigue (a kind of exhaustion), stumbling more than before, unusual feelings in the skin (such as pins and needles or numbness), slowed thinking or problems with eyesight. Not everyone experiences all of them.
What causes MS?
The causes of MS are not well understood but it seems that a number of different factors add up to trigger the condition. Some of these factors are believed to include a lack of sunshine and vitamin D.
Clinical trials with increased intake of linoleic acid
In the 1970s, three separate trials were conducted, looking at dietary linoleic acid as a treatment for people with multiple sclerosis. Two of the trials gave participants 17 grams daily of linoleic acid in the form of sunflower oil with 8g daily of olive oil as the control substance. The third trial gave participants 23g daily of linoleic acid in the form of a sunflower spread, with the control group receiving 16g of olive oil spread daily. Two of the trials looked only at relapsing remitting MS, one trial also included people with progressive MS.
What is linoleic acid?
Linoleic acid is a naturally occurring omega-6 essential fatty acid, present in a variety of foods, including the oils of seeds and nuts, such as sunflower, safflower, soya, corn seeds or walnuts.
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
There is some theoretical evidence that another omega-6 essential fatty acid, GLA, may also be beneficial in multiple sclerosis. Animal studies show that GLA suppresses immune system activity and decreases the severity of an MS-like disease. However, these benefits have not been replicated in human studies. The main sources of GLA are starflower oil and evening primrose oil, which contains both GLA and linoleic acid.
Trial results show linoleic acid slowing progression of MS
Results from the clinical trials showed that people receiving linoleic acid had slower accumulation of disability over time. This was most noticeable in people who had little or no disability when they started on the trial, suggesting that linoleic acid was of most benefit to people who are newly diagnosed. Linoleic acid did not appear to affect the number of relapses that people had, but those people who received linoleic acid experienced shorter relapses, whatever their level of disability when the trials started.
There were insufficient number of people with progressive MS were included in the trials to show any evidence that increasing linoleic acid benefits people with that type of MS
Where can I get linoleic acid from?
Common dietary sources to obtain the levels taken in the trials include:
- 3 level teaspoons (12g) of full fat polyunsaturated margarine, for example, sunflower, corn, safflower or soya
- 2 teaspoons (8g) of corn oil, soya oil, walnut oil or wheatgerm oil
- 1 teaspoon of safflower oil or sunflower oil
- 10-15g of walnuts, brazil nuts, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin or poppy seeds
- 20-30g of peanuts, peanut butter or almonds
- 2 teaspoons (10g) of full fat mayonnaise
- 35g of taramasalata
To help ensure consistent levels are consumed daily, many people choose to get linoleic and GLA from a Starflower Oil Supplement or an Evening Primrose oil Supplement - approximately 4500mg is required.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.