Nerves carry message to and fro from brain and spinal cord to various parts of body. Nerve fiber is covered by a protective shield called myelin. It is made up of special fat called lipoprotein. Many nerves in the body are insulated with myelin sheath. Myelin acts insulates the nerve just like an electrical wire insulated with a material. This enables faster conduction of nerve message to brain from the body parts and vice versa.
When the myelin sheath is damaged and degenerated, the process of nerve signals gets hampered or delayed. Messages do not travels easily thus leading to various symptoms such as numbness, uncoordinated movement, loss of bladder and bowel control etc. There are several causes for degeneration of myelin sheath. It can degenerate in certain hereditary disease, in stroke, vitamin B12 deficiency, poison etc.
The best example of myelin degeneration is in a condition called multiple sclerosis.
What Causes Myelin Sheath Degeneration?
Degeneration of myelin sheath is also called demyelination. It is a condition involving the nervous system. As mentioned earlier myelin is a covering around the nerve fiber. It acts as a protective layer and it also helps in conduction of nerve impulses. When myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses can be delayed and even the nerves can get damaged.
Myelin sheath in newborn is in its developing stage hence their movement is jerky and uncoordinated. But as the child grows older, myelin becomes stronger and fully developed. The movement of child becomes smooth and in coordination. There are several causes in which the sheath may not develop normally and degenerate.
- In certain hereditary diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease, Gaucher disease myelin does not develop since birth. Hence these children have permanent neurological problem.
- Myelin in adults can get degenerated and damaged in conditions like stroke, infections, and immunological disorders.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency in adults can lead to myelin sheath damage.
- Frequent intake or excessive intake of alcohol can damage myelin sheath.
- Certain poison and drugs can cause degeneration of myelin. Drug such as ethambutol is known to cause myelin damage.
- Myelin sheath degeneration is seen in a disorder called multiple scelrosis. It is a serious neurological disorder of degeneration of myelin and nerves.
- Sometimes demyelination can occur due to viral infection or vaccination against viral infection. It occurs due to autoimmune reaction of the body attacking the myelin sheath and nerves.
Signs And Symptoms Of Myelin Sheath Degeneration
Myelin sheath degeneration can have wide range of disastrous implication on nerves and its function. As the myelin sheath gets damaged so does the underlying nerve. Hence patient may have complex of symptom manifestation. They may be sudden as in case of Guillian- Barre syndrome a viral disease or the symptoms may be gradual as in case of multiple sclerosis. It can affect vision, senses, mood, movement, etc.
Following are important symptoms noted due to demyelination:
- Tingling and numbness in extremities.
- Blurred or double vision.
- Problem related to balance of body.
- Stiffness and contraction of muscles leading to problem in speech and movement.
- High blood pressure and palpitation of heart.
- Pain in legs on slight touch.
- Loss of memory, lack of concentration.
- Control over bladder and bowel is lost.
- Extreme fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Painful intercourse
Dietary Treatment Of Demyelination
There is no specific cure for demyelinating diseases. The only preferable option is to slowdown the progression of degeneration and to alleviate symptoms as far as possible. When the myelin sheath is damaged or degenerated, new myelin sheath may grow in the peripheral nerves. But it is not so strong and hence the impulses generated from nerve fibers are transmitted slowly to the brain. Myelin once damaged in the spinal cord and brain does not regenerate.
Certain foods can facilitate faster healing of myelin sheath to some extent. Eating foods high in choline is known to help in healing of damaged myelin in peripheral nerves. Foods high in choline are eggs, sesame seeds, pea nuts, flax seeds, oats etc.
Fish and fish oil contain plenty of essential fatty acid. It improves condition of nerve impulses as in case of multiple sclerosis. Eat foods that are high in vitamin B12. This vitamin is found abundantly in egg, fish, meat, shellfish, and fortified grain flour.