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Using Vitamins and Supplements Safely With MS: What To Avoid

Posted on August 09, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Marnie Willman

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) can complicate decisions about what supplements and vitamins to take due to changes in your immune system and central nervous system. Maintaining your physical health is especially important when you’re living with a chronic condition like MS, but how do you know which vitamins and supplements are safe?

This article discusses points to consider when using vitamins and supplements, including some risks and other factors to consider before trying new ones. Always speak with your doctor before making any change to your health regimen.

Can Vitamins and Supplements Help You?

Many people living with MS are curious about supplements and vitamins as a way to improve their health, reduce MS-related inflammation, and feel better. Some people find that complementary supplements may decrease fatigue or other MS symptoms. However, researchers haven’t found them conclusively capable of reducing MS flares or slowing disease progression. Only disease-modifying therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been proven to treat MS.

Researchers have found that deficiencies in vitamin A, B12, or D are relatively common among people living with MS. However, research studies into whether or not supplements can help have been inconclusive and sometimes contradictory as to if supplements aimed at boosting these deficiencies can improve MS symptoms.

For example, studies have shown that vitamin B12 supplements could either worsen or improve MS symptoms. There is no evidence that either case is true. Your doctor may test your vitamin levels. If you do have a deficiency, vitamins or other nutritional supplements may help you feel better.

Vitamin D and MS

In addition to supporting bone and muscle health, vitamin D plays a role in strengthening the immune system and immune cells (T cells and B cells) — which are abnormal in MS. People can get vitamin D from sun exposure, certain foods, and supplements.

Researchers have studied the link between vitamin D levels and MS for many years. Scientists initially suspected a connection because there’s a lower incidence of MS near the equator, where more sun exposure means higher levels of vitamin D.

Studies have found that people with higher levels of vitamin D may have a lower risk of developing MS. Some research has also suggested that people living with MS who take high doses of vitamin D may experience less-severe disease progression, disease activity, and relapse rate.

The current recommended dietary allowance is 600 international units per day, but your needs may be different if you have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is also absorbed from foods like fish or enriched products like orange juice, dairy products, and plant-based milks.

You can ask your neurologist to test your vitamin D levels and check for deficiency. If you have one, speak with your doctor about the best ways to increase those levels.

Multivitamins

As the name implies, multivitamins are supplements that contain a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals. They’re intended to fill nutrient gaps in a person’s diet in a single pill. Not all multivitamins contain the same types or amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Getting enough essential vitamins can help people with MS feel their best. One study found that multivitamins may improve inflammation and fatigue in some people living with MS. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, getting the right balance of vitamins from dietary sources, such as fruits and vegetables, is a better approach than relying on supplements.

Your doctor can help you find the right multivitamin and avoid problems like overdose if you are taking multiple supplements.

How To Avoid Overdose and Medication Interactions

It’s a common misconception that vitamins and supplements are safe because they are “natural.” In fact, supplements can cause side effects and interactions with medications, and it’s possible to overdose. Too much of a good thing can lead to toxicity.

Talk to Your Doctor or Pharmacist

The best way to take a safe amount of the correct vitamins and supplements is to have a discussion with your doctor or pharmacist. Your doctor can help you choose the best treatment plan, including supplements, for your unique situation. Your pharmacist can help you determine safe doses of vitamins and supplements you want to try and help you avoid drug interactions that can cause health problems.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s particularly important to ask your doctor the following questions before trying new vitamins or supplements:

  • What are the potential benefits?
  • Does it have any risks?
  • What dose should I take?
  • Does it matter when I take it during the day, and how long I take it?

These questions become even more vital when you are living with MS because your health history may be more complicated.

Know the Risks

It’s essential to discuss decisions regarding your treatment plan with your doctor or specialist before you start taking vitamins or supplements, to ensure you’re aware of potential risks. Dietician Deborah Eck wrote in MS Focus Magazine that some vitamins or supplements may pose problems for people with MS:

  • Supplements that boost your immune response — for instance, selenium, copper, and manganese — may worsen autoimmune attacks in MS.
  • Large doses of vitamin E and vitamin C can thin your blood, which may lead to MS complications.
  • Single supplements can contain high doses, making them potentially more dangerous. Always talk with your doctor before taking a new supplement.

It’s also worth noting that some iron supplements can cause or worsen constipation, a common bowel symptom of MS. If you take iron supplements to help with anemia or fatigue, follow your doctor’s medical advice on how best to prevent or reduce this side effect. Notably, iron absorption is improved with supplemental vitamin C.

Do Your Research

Before you head to the doctor’s office, have an idea of what supplements you’d like to discuss with them and why. Ensure you use reliable sources like the National Institutes of Health or medically reviewed articles and studies. Blog posts and other articles that aren’t medically edited and reviewed may be inaccurate.

If you and your doctor decide you can safely try supplements to improve your MS symptoms, make sure to get them from reputable sources. Purchasing them from your local pharmacy or by prescription is better than ordering them online from an unknown company.

In many countries, government organizations like the FDA strictly regulate vitamin supplements. However, some companies find ways around these rules through online sales. If you’re living with MS, it’s very important to know what you’re taking. Make sure the contents of the supplements match the description label.

Read more about supplements like black seed oil, biotin, alpha-lipoic acid, kratom, and lion’s mane mushroom and their effect on MS symptoms and management. Some of these are being tested in clinical trials for their ability to improve MS symptoms.

Reactions to Supplements Vary

It’s easy to look online or talk to other people living with MS and gain heaps of advice on what vitamins and supplements you should take. Some doctors argue there’s no benefit to many dietary supplements at all. Marketing for supplements promises they are the secret to perfect health. Each person reacts to vitamins and supplements differently, and it’s important to use all of the tips in this article to ensure you’re using supplements safely and preventing dangerous interactions or overdoses.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all for supplements. Do your research, talk to your health care team, and pay attention to your body.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 190,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

Do you take vitamins or other supplements to help with MS? Have you discussed supplements with your doctor? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Marnie Willman is a Ph.D. candidate in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. Learn more about her here.

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