Diet and MS: What does research tell us about supplements?

A question I frequently receive is: “Are there supplements I can take to manage my MS?” MS impacts the day-to-day lives of those living with the disease, so it’s no surprise that many individuals explore complementary and alternative medications (CAMs) to take control of their MS. CAMs are approaches that come from a variety of traditions and practices, including exercise, natural health products, supplements and vitamins. In addition to helping in the management of MS, CAMs are used by Canadians to enhance their overall wellness. 

There are a variety of small studies that have looked at the role of CAMs in MS, however their effects are unclear. One area that is growing in interest are the role of supplements as potential treatments. In this post, I will touch on three supplements that have recently gained some traction among the MS research community – vitamin D, biotin, and lipoic acid.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been a hot topic in MS research. Referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is produced by our skin through sun exposure, but can also come from other sources like supplements and diet (eggs, fish and fortified dairy products). Vitamin D works to help absorb nutrients, particularly calcium, and more recently vitamin D has been investigated for other proposed health benefits.

So, how did vitamin D get linked to MS? Well, we know that MS is more common in countries farther away from the equator, therefore, researchers have become interested in the role that sunlight, and hence vitamin D, could play in MS.

We are still learning about the association between vitamin D and MS, with research groups worldwide assessing the role of vitamin D in the onset, progression, and treatment of MS.

What research tells us thus far?

In recent years, some observational studies of individuals with MS have identified a link between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of developing MS. One large study of 200,000 women who took part in the Nurse’s Health Study found that intake of 400 International Units (IU- describes the potency or biological activity of a product) daily of vitamin D was associated with a 40% lower risk of MS. Another prospective study found that higher levels of vitamin D in the blood (also known as your vitamin D status) during late adolescence or early adulthood were associated with a lower risk of developing MS later in life.

While there appears to be an association between vitamin D status and risk of MS, it is less clear whether vitamin D supplementation can improve disease outcomes in people living with MS. Clinical trials comparing vitamin D treatment versus placebo, or high-dose vitamin D treatment versus low-dose vitamin D treatment, found no significant effects in terms of improved MS outcomes. Other studies, however, demonstrated modest benefits of vitamin D treatment in on various disease outcomes such as lesion sizes, immune activity etc.

One major study that is currently ongoing is led by Dr. Ellen Mowry at Johns Hopkins University. This phase III clinical trial is anticipated to enroll 172 individuals with relapsing-remitting MS, and will examine if a high-dose vitamin D intervention will alter the number of relapses compared to low-dose vitamin D. Another phase III clinical trial, anticipated to enroll 316 participants and led by Dr. Eric Thouvenot at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nimes, is examining if administration of vitamin D compared to placebo will reduce the conversion to MS after individuals have experienced their first symptoms relating to MS.

In addition to these ongoing major trails, there are a handful of studies that have been conducted with mixed results. The SOLAR trial, which involved 260 people with relapsing-remitting MS, tested the effects of vitamin D supplementation as an add-on treatment with interferon beta-1a (Rebif) on MS outcomes, versus placebo. The data so far shows no significant effect of vitamin D supplementation on relapses, disease activity and disability, although the individuals in the vitamin D group did have fewer number of  lesions as seen on MRI compared to placebo. Another small study involving 40 people with relapsing MS found that taking 10,400 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day for six months reduced the number of certain immune cells that are known to cause damage in MS.

For more studies on vitamin D and MS, check out our vitamin D hot topics page.

Biotin /MD1003

Biotin, also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H, is essential for breaking down proteins, carbohydrates and fats into forms that the body can use. Biotin, which can be obtained from foods such as eggs, almonds, nuts and legumes, is important for the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, eyes, liver, and nervous system functioning. Additionally, biotin deficiency is common in pregnant women, and thus women who are expecting are advised to take biotin or a multi-vitamin containing biotin.

Biotin has become of interest to the MS community due to its advancement up the clinical trial ladder where it is now being examined in phase III clinical trials by French pharmaceutical company MedDay. Interestingly, they are looking at a new pharmaceutical formulation of biotin which is 10,000-fold higher in dose than what is available over the counter. The compound is called MD1003.

What research tells us thus far?

The first of two clinical trials sponsored by MedDay is MS-SPI. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III trial involved 154 participants with primary and secondary progressive MS who received either MD1003 or placebo over two years. Researchers found that treatment with MD1003 resulted in a significant improvement in disability compared to placebo treatment.

The second phase III clinical trial, SPI2, is underway to test MD1003 treatment compared with placebo.  Currently, recruitment is ongoing in multiple countries, including Canada, with the estimated enrollment of 600 participants with primary and secondary progressive MS. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wanted a study in the U.S. population which prompted the launch of the SPI2 trial. This global study will confirm the findings of the MS-SPI trial but will also include additional measures on the safety and efficacy of MD1003.

MD1003 is also being investigated in a phase III clinical trial, called MS-ON, to see if it can improve the sight in participants with chronic visual loss from MS-related optic neuritis.

Although considered a vitamin in low doses, more information is needed on the long-term efficacy safety of taking ultra-high doses of biotin for a prolonged period of time.

Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is an over-the-counter supplement known to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants block the action of “free radicals”, which are by-products of the body that cause tissue injury in MS. In addition to supplements, lipoic acid can also be found in foods such as spinach, broccoli and potatoes.

Controlled trials are currently ongoing to test the potential of several antioxidants in MS, including lipoic acid.

What research tells us thus far?

While research on the role of lipoic acid as a treatment for MS is in the early stages, there are a few small clinical trials, mainly in phase I and II, that are testing the safety and efficacy of lipoic acid in people with MS.

A single-site, phase I clinical trial led by Dr. Daniel Carr at the Portland VA Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University enrolled 69 SPMS patients, RRMS patients or healthy individuals to observe how lipoic acid (1200 mg) is broken down in the body.

Following this study was a single-site, double-blind phase II clinical trial led by Dr. Rebecca Spain and her colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University, which involved 51 individuals who received either oral lipoic acid (1200 mg) or placebo daily for two years. The results showed that participants who received lipoic acid had a 68% decrease in the rate of brain volume loss compared to individuals on placebo.

Another phase II clinical trial led by Daniel Carr was completed this year and aimed to determine if the combination of lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids improve cognition in RRMS or SPMS compared to placebo treatment.  Thus far, the results did not show changes in cognition after 12 weeks of treatment.

While research is pointing to promising outcomes among people with MS who take supplements as treatments, it’s important to note that such studies are small and serve as critical starting points for larger research studies. Clinical trials such as those described above are important avenues to better understand the benefits and safety of supplements in MS, especially those which are administered at very high doses. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your health care team, as this decision is based on a number of factors.

Interested in learning about more supplements, diet and other CAMs? Leave us a message below.


Subscribe to our mailing list and stay in touch by getting email updates.

  1. Pingback: Diet and MS: What does research tell us about supplements? | Sclerosi Multipla News

  2. Shirley Cassie

    I was diagnosed in 2006 with multiple sclerosis, the only symptoms at that time were falling and legs hurting and moving all the time. I remember no symptoms at all until last year. I went into full seizure mode, I was put on Avonex. I had the symptoms of that medication every day for 13 weeks, I mean I was so sick every day. I stopped that medication and a few days later I was back to my normal self. Then a few weeks later I started having attacks every week and I was really bad. It’s like one long attack every day. My upstairs neighbors cause me great anxiety every day. I have gotten a new neurologist and she started me on the Copaxone and I didn’t know what to expect, I knew I hurt from when I wake up until I go to sleep.I lost touch with reality.I started on Health Herbal Clinic multiple sclerosis Disease Herbal formula in June 2017, i read alot of positive reviews from patients here in the United States on their success rate treating multiple sclerosis through their Herbal formula and i immediately started on the treatment. Just 7 weeks into the Herbal formula treatment I had great improvements with my Vision and coordination, my stiffed, rigid muscle had succumbed. I am unbelievably back on my feet again, this is a breakthrough for all multiple sclerosis sufferers, visit Health Herbal Clinic official website

  3. Carol Drali

    I had no idea that I had type II diabetes. I was diagnosed at age 50, after complaining to my doctor about being very tired. There is no family history of this disease. I’m a male and at the time of diagnosis, I weighed about 215. (I’m 6’2″)Within 6 months, I had gained 30 to 35 pounds, and apparently the diabetes medicines (Actos and Glimiperide) are known to cause weight gain. I wish my doctor had mentioned that, so I could have monitored my weight more closely. I was also taking metformin 1000 mg twice daily December 2017 our family doctor started me on Green House Herbal Clinic Diabetes Disease Herbal mixture, 5 weeks into treatment I improved dramatically. At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control. No case blurred vision, frequent urination, or weakness
    Visit Green House Herbal Clinic official website www. greenhouseherbalclinic .com. I am strong again and able to go about daily activities.‌ This is a breakthrough for all diabetes sufferers

  4. Johan Boutella

    After my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis 2 years ago, i stopped all the Multiple sclerosis medicines prescribed due to severe side effects, and decided to go on natural herbal approach. My primary care provider introduced me to Rich Herbs Foundation and i immediately started on their Multiple Sclerosis herbal formula treatment, this herbal treatment has made a tremendous difference for me. My symptoms including shaking, muscle weakness, fatigue, mood swings, numbness, double vision and urinary retention all disappeared after the 4 months treatment! Their website is ww w. richherbsfoundation. com. Its just amazing!

  5. Philip

    I can offer a few simple things you can do which I began a week ago and already feel the lessening of tingling and numbness in hands and feet.

    -I cut out all Gluten. Buy Gluten free snacks, pastas and brads at any grocery store.
    -I cut out all dairy. (I recall days eating cheese and my body would punish me for hours on end)
    -Pineapple and Turmeric juice TWICE daily. One glass of Pineapple juice with one Teaspoon of Turmeric in the blender. I make a large batch enough for 2 days which means 4 Teaspoons of Turmeric.
    -Alcoholic beverages will only be Tequila made from pure blue Agave as its Gluten free.

    These few simple changes along with regular Yoga have made a great difference as I mentioned above.
    Give it a try.

    • Zachary

      Hey that’s awesome, Philip. I cut out dairy long ago, and am all the better for it, though I have to try this pineapple and turmeric juice. It actually sounds pretty tasty!

  6. jun zina

    I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis MS in 2011 after a 2nd bout with optic neuritis (right eye). Same neurologist/same treatment (Avonex) until just last month i was introduce to Total cure herbal foundation who help me get rid of the MS totally you can search for them on Google! So many other doors are open since seeking a herbal natural formula.I honestly went through over 100 doctors if not more. I suffered what seemed to be a stroke but was told it wasn’t a stroke. I found out through a spinal tap that I had MS..this herbal foundation was my survival; Totalcureherbalfoundation gmailcom
    Never give up!

  7. David Bishara

    I’m actually on a massive biotin dose at the moment, but not as massive as some studies which use up to 500 mg a day. I take around 10 mg (which is still massive considering that the daily requirements are evaluated at around 30 mcg). I’ve seen a gigantic improvement in my energy levels, and my clinical signs have also modestly lessened. I was at 1 on 3 of the Disability Scale items, and after a few months on the treatment my doctor evaluated them at around 0.5 (before I told him about the fact that I was taking it, so he couldn’t have been biased), even though I had had new lesions after my precedent exam.

    Now of course I don’t suggest that anyone try to do that by themselves, because there are a lot of potential risks in taking massive biotin doses, such as interference with some medications and extreme skewing of blood test results which can lead to being rushed to the ER, receiving unneeded treatment, and getting critically sick from it, leaving everyone dumbfounded and at a loss of what to do next. It messes blood tests up completely, so you need to stop taking them for 72 hours prior to having your blood drawn, and even them you have to mention that to the lab so they can consider it when they interpret the results.

    I still took biotin all by myself because my dad’s a scientist and he assists me with searching for stuff like that, and he taught me how to asses risk and gather trustworthy information.

    Now the fun part is when I told about my supplement to my doc he said that he believed me that it helped, and to continue taking them, and that some other patients of his had clinical improvements from it. So now I’m waiting for the next research progresses, hoping of course that some ill-willed pharmaceutical companies don’t try to shut them down or discredit them for profit. My dad’s a scientist, so believe me, he’s seen that kind of thing happen.

  8. Jacqueline Rice

    I was having joints pain in both hands inside and outside and muscle weakness due to multiple sclerosis (MS). I was falling a lot, I had headaches and lightheadedness. I couldn’t keep myself balanced, and walk with a tremor like I cannot control my steps. I was on Copaxone, the first year was daily and later was 40 mg, 3 times a week. It didn’t make a tremendous difference for me. I’ve tried therapy, but it is not helping. I was seeking something to help regain my life to be able to do things for myself. It is frustrating when it feels like nobody is trying to help you find some relief. Through my primary physician i learnt about a (MS) herbal formula from NATURAL HERBAL GARDENS and their success rate with the treatment, i immediately started on the (MS) herbal protocol, I am glad to report the herbal formula worked effectively and there was no side effects, I had a total decline in symptoms, the joints pain, weakness and other symptoms stopped, my MS is totally REVERSED, Here is a link to the website

  9. Jacqueline Rice

    Here is a link to the website we ordered from w w w . naturalherbalgardens . c o m DON’T GIVE UP HOPE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *