The Ultimate Guide to Herbs and Supplements for Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition affecting the central nervous system (CNS). Its symptoms range from mild and intermittent to severe and permanently damaging. There’s currently no cure for MS, but many pharmaceutical and alternative treatments are available.

Treatments for MS typically target the disease’s symptoms, as the cause of the disease isn’t known. The symptoms of MS stem from the breakdown of communication between the brain and the nerves.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis

There are many symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Symptoms tend to become more severe as the disease progresses.

Common symptoms of MS include:

  • vision problems
  • weakness
  • memory problems
  • balance and coordination problems
  • a variety of sensations in the limbs, such as prickling, tingling, or numbness

Certain treatments can be very effective in alleviating and even avoiding the unpleasant symptoms of MS. Before using any herbs, supplements, or alternative or complementary therapies to treat MS, discuss the benefits and risks with a healthcare provider.

Herbs and supplements: Can they help you beat MS?

Although no drug or supplement can cure MS, some treatments may help people slow the disease’s progress. Other therapies can significantly reduce symptoms or prolong periods of remission.

Around the world, people with MS use complementary and alternative medicine.

Many people turn to nonpharmaceutical treatments when Western medicine doesn’t work to improve their symptoms. Others decide to try these options when their healthcare provider makes a referral or when they hear about the promise of alternative treatments.

Regardless of your reasons for seeking information on herbal and supplementary treatments for MS, always consult your healthcare provider before stopping prescribed medications or adding a new therapy to your treatment regimen.

Some herbs, supplements, and alternative therapies can cause:

  • drug interactions
  • adverse health conditions
  • medical complications when used incorrectly

The top herbs and supplements for MS (and what they offer)

The following list doesn’t cover every available herbal or supplementary option for treating the symptoms of MS. Instead, the list offers a brief summary of the important information about each of the most common herbs and supplements that people with MS use.

1. Ashwagandha

This Ayurvedic herb is known by many names, including:

  • Withania somnifera
  • Indian ginseng
  • Asana

Its berries, roots, and extracts are sometimes used for:

  • chronic pain
  • fatigue
  • inflammation
  • stress relief
  • anxiety

Although some research into how ashwagandha can protect the brain has been promising, it’s not been studied well enough to know whether it can effectively treat multiple sclerosis or its symptoms.

2. Chyawanprash

Chyawanprash is an herbal tonic commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. Early animal studies indicate it may protect cognitive function by aiding memory.

Formal studies on humans are scarce. There’s not enough evidence to determine whether Chyawanprash is effective or helpful in managing MS symptoms.

3. Gotu kola

Gotu kola is a popular traditional medicine in Chinese and Ayurvedic history. It’s been promoted as an herb that can lengthen life and improve symptoms of eye diseases, swelling, inflammation, skin conditions, and fatigue.

While some research for neuroprotection has shown promise, gotu kola has been studied very little. Its actual impact on MS symptoms is unknown. It’s available in a wide variety of forms, and it’s generally considered safe in low doses.

4. Ginkgo biloba

Renowned for its potential to improve memory and mental clarity, ginkgo has been used for a wide variety of ailments over the centuries.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), ginkgo extract or supplements are possibly effective for:

  • improving thinking and memory difficulties
  • relieving leg pain and overactive nerve responses
  • affecting eye and vision problems
  • reducing dizziness and vertigo

It hasn’t been widely studied in individuals with MS, but ginkgo biloba may help people living with MS by reducing inflammation and fatigue.

Most people can safely take ginkgo in supplement form, but it may interact with a wide variety of other medications and herbs. For this reason, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider before beginning the use of this supplement.

5. Huo ma ren (Chinese hemp seed)

This traditional Chinese medicine, used for its sedative properties for a variety of illnesses, is believed to soothe problems of the nervous system. Extracts from plants in the cannabis family have been studied for their role in reducing spasticity, neurodegeneration, and inflammation.

Some practitioners believe that closely monitored use of specific members of this plant family can be highly effective for treating symptoms of MS, but its use in the clinical setting remains controversial.

6. Myrrh

Myrrh has historically been treasured for its aroma and use in ritual religious ceremonies. In addition, it’s been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It’s believed to have antiseptic abilities and the power to treat diabetes, circulation problems, and rheumatism.

It also appears to have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties for the modern treatment of health problems. It doesn’t appear to have been studied specifically for symptoms of MS.

7. Agrimony

Current use of agrimony is based on centuries of its use in treating a variety of health problems.

Although different medicinal properties are attributed to the many different varieties of agrimony, recent research has discovered antiviral, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and metabolism-boosting properties.

Human research on this herb as a treatment for MS is virtually nonexistent, although some promising animal model studies are investigating the herb’s properties as they relate to MS symptoms.

8. Bilberry leaf

Bilberry, also known as huckleberry, is a relative of the blueberry and can be used for its fruit or leaves. Although it’s often used in foods, the berries and leaves can be used to derive plant extracts for supplements and other medicinal uses.

Historically, this herb was used to treat everything from vision problems and scurvy to diarrhea and circulation problems. There are few reliable human trials studying this plant, and bilberry research specifically related to MS is virtually nonexistent.

However, there’s evidence suggesting bilberry is rich in antioxidants and has the potential to:

  • improve vision
  • reduce inflammation
  • protect cognitive function

9. Catnip

Apparently, catnip isn’t just for kitties. Some individuals use this herb for MS pain management. However, catnip may actually make fatigue worse or multiply the effect of other sedative medications.

Research in humans is lacking, but early animal trials on extracts of various species of this plant indicate that catnip may have anti-inflammatory abilities.

10. Chamomile

Chamomile has been used for centuries both topically and orally for:

  • skin conditions
  • sleeplessness or anxiety
  • stomach upset
  • gas or diarrhea

Trials in humans are few and far between, but its common use and availability in a variety of forms make chamomile a popular remedy for some people with MS.

Chamomile offers antioxidant and antibacterial effects, and it’s also being studied for its ability to prevent tumor growth and mouth ulcers in people with cancer.

However, not enough is known specifically about chamomile’s role in treating MS to indicate whether it’s effective for this purpose.

11. Dandelion root and leaf

Korean medicine has used the dandelion in herbal remedies for energy improvement and general health, while Native American and Arabic medicine have used dandelion for digestive and skin problems.

Animal trials suggest dandelion may reduce fatigue and promote immune health. Research also suggests that dandelion has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

No research has examined the impact of dandelion on multiple sclerosis, but the plant does appear to have some medicinal properties that might be helpful to individuals with MS symptoms.

12. Elderflower

Elderflower is known by many names, including:

The berries and flowers of the elder tree have traditionally been used for:

  • skin conditions
  • infections
  • colds
  • fevers
  • pain
  • swelling

The uncooked or unripe berries are toxic, and inappropriate use of the plant can cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Limited research supports the use of elderflower in treating the flu and chronic inflammatory conditions. Animal studies also suggest elderflower extracts play a role in regulating immune response in the CNS.

More research in humans needs to be done to define the potential of elderflower in managing MS symptoms.

13. Cramp bark

Cramp bark, or Viburnum opulus, is plant bark that’s used to treat cramps and spasms. Although human research on this herb is in its infancy, it appears to have antioxidants and anticancer effects that may inhibit the growth of tumors or lesions.

14. Ginger

Ginger has long been used for its remarkable flavor and its medicinal purposes.

In folk medicines, it’s commonly used to aid in:

  • stomach problems
  • nausea
  • joint and muscle pain
  • diarrhea

Research is starting to uncover anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective potential in ginger and other spices.

The potential role of ginger in preventing inflammatory problems makes ginger an excellent choice. Most people can tolerate reasonable use of ginger with few or no side effects.

15. Ginseng

There are several varieties of ginseng used for medicinal purposes. Most forms of ginseng have some well-supported health benefits.

Panax ginseng, for instance, is possibly effective for improving thinking and memory and relieving erectile dysfunction, although its safety is less well known.

American ginseng may help prevent respiratory infections, and Siberian ginseng may have antiviral properties that could help fight a cold.

Most forms of ginseng have shown benefits for people with diabetes, but all forms carry the risk of allergy and drug interaction.

The evidence on ginseng and MS is mixed. It may improve fatigue in MS. However, ginseng may also stimulate the nervous system and make MS worse. Always ask your healthcare provider before adding ginseng to an MS dietary regimen.

16. Hawthorn berry

Hawthorn plants have long been used in medical treatments for heart failure or irregular heartbeats. More recently, it’s been studied (primarily in animals) for its effect on circulation.

Recent research also suggests it has antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties that could play a role in treating other diseases. In general, this plant hasn’t been well studied for its effects on human health.

17. Licorice

Licorice root and its extracts have long been used to treat:

  • viral conditions
  • stomach ulcers
  • throat problems

Very limited research suggests that licorice may reduce inflammation. It may also have some neuroprotective effects. However, it might cause high blood pressure and low potassium.

Research is still insufficient to make a recommendation for the use of licorice to treat MS symptoms.

18. Milk thistle

Traditionally used as a liver tonic, milk thistle is being studied in the modern age for its impact on liver inflammation and health. The herb is available in a variety of forms (e.g., tinctures and supplements), but the appropriate dosage for treatment of conditions in humans is unknown.

Milk thistle may modulate the immune system in MS and help MS medications work better, but more research needs to be done before this herb can be officially recommended for treatment of MS symptoms.

19. Peppermint

Peppermint has long been used topically and in the form of tea or capsules to:

  • promote digestive health
  • treat muscle and nerve pain
  • relieve headaches
  • ease nausea or stress

There is insufficient research to determine whether peppermint is clinically helpful for the treatment of MS, but research is promising for its effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

20. Schizandra berry

Schizandra (Schisandra) berry is thought to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Animal trials suggest it may also have a neuroprotective ability. However, schizandra berries haven’t been well studied for their potential to relieve MS symptoms in humans.

21. St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort has traditionally been used for nerve pain and mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and as a balm for wounds.

Its effect on depressive symptoms has been well studied. St. John’s wort is starting to be evaluated for its ability to promote the healing and health of nerves.

There’s not enough research on St. John’s wort and MS to be able to recommend its use for treatment of MS symptoms, but it may help with depression and inflammation.

It may interact with a wide variety of medications and should be discussed with a healthcare provider prior to use.

22. Turmeric

Turmeric is a popular spice containing curcuminoids. Curcuminoids have been shown to have neuroprotective effects. Its anti-inflammatory abilities also show promise for the alleviation of MS symptoms.

However, its true impact on MS symptoms and its proper dosage must be studied further before it can be widely recommended for use by people with MS.

23. Valerian

Traditionally used for headaches, trembling, and a variety of sleep disorders, valerian has also been used for anxiety and depression.

Research on the effectiveness of valerian for insomnia and anxiety is mixed, but it may help with sleep problems. It’s uncertain whether valerian is beneficial for effectively treating symptoms of MS.

24. Vitamin A

This fat-soluble vitamin plays a critical role in:

  • vision health
  • reproductive health
  • immune system health

Vitamin A is also important for proper function of the heart and other organs. Vitamin A can be found naturally in a variety of foods, such as leafy greens, organ meats, fruits, and dairy products, or obtained through a supplement.

It’s possible to overdose on vitamin A. It shouldn’t be taken in large doses without the advice of a healthcare provider.

Vitamin A supplementation has been linked to delays in age-related macular degeneration. The antioxidants in vitamin A may be helpful for people with MS, but the connection between vitamin A and MS hasn’t been well explored.

25. Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)

Vitamin B-1, also known as thiamine or thiamin, is critical for proper brain function. Thiamine is also essential for healthy metabolism and nerve, muscle, and heart function.

Deficiencies in thiamine are associated with a variety of neurodegenerative conditions, including MS. Too little vitamin B-1 can also cause weakness and fatigue. Thiamine can be found in:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • eggs
  • lean meats

26. Vitamin B-6

Vitamin B-6 is an essential nutrient for metabolism that’s found in certain foods, such as organ meats, fish, and starchy vegetables, and supplements.

Although deficiencies are rare, low vitamin B-6 levels can occur in people with autoimmune disorders.

Vitamin B-6 deficiency can be associated with:

  • abnormal brain function
  • depression
  • confusion
  • kidney problems

Research on B-6 and multiple sclerosis is limited. There’s little scientific support indicating vitamin B-6 supplementation can prevent MS symptoms.

Vitamin B-6 can be toxic to nerves if taken at too high of a dosage.

27. Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is important for the proper function of:

  • nerve cells
  • red blood cells
  • the brain
  • many other body parts

Deficiencies lead to:

  • weakness
  • weight loss
  • numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • balance problems
  • confusion
  • memory problems
  • even nerve damage

People with MS may be more likely to develop a B-12 deficiency, making supplementation a good option for some individuals. Together, vitamins B-6 and B-12 may be important for eye health.

However, there isn’t enough evidence to connect vitamin B-12 supplementation to improved MS symptoms.

28. Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, plays an important role in the function of the immune system. It’s an antioxidant that people with MS may have trouble absorbing.

Although vitamin C deficiencies are rare, they can cause serious problems, such as:

  • depression
  • tooth loss
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • death

Some research indicates that ascorbic acid is essential to eye health and the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts. Some early research suggests that vitamin C’s antioxidants may help protect individuals with MS from nerve deterioration, but more research is needed.

29. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for bone, muscle, nerve, and immune system health.

Most people obtain vitamin D from:

  • sun exposure
  • fatty fish
  • fortified foods and drinks

Research continues to suggest that there’s a strong connection between vitamin D levels and the development and progression of MS.

Sun exposure and monitored vitamin D supplementation is becoming a more common recommendation for the treatment of MS.

However, more research is necessary before the practice becomes standardized and the strength of vitamin D’s effects on MS is fully understood.

30. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble nutrient and antioxidant. It’s essential for immune system health and preventing blood clots. Vegetable oils, nuts, and green vegetables are the best food sources of vitamin E.

The antioxidant abilities of vitamin E have been of interest to researchers, and people with MS may already have low levels of vitamin E. However, there’s not enough research on vitamin E and MS to know whether it’s a truly effective treatment option for MS symptoms.

31. Bee pollen or venom

Honeybee venom, also known as apitoxin, is a clear liquid. Treatment of health conditions with the venom of bee stings is called apitherapy.

Unlike many of the other herbs and supplements used to treat MS and its symptoms, bee venom has been specifically studied for its effects on MS in several clinical trials.

These human trials were typically small. There’s still not enough available research to know for sure whether venom-derived treatments may be beneficial for treating MS or they introduce negative health effects.

Bee pollen, on the other hand, is increasingly used as a dietary supplement. Although its properties are still under investigation, it appears to have antioxidant and antimicrobial abilities, according to a 2013 study.

A 2015 study showed that it’s helpful in boosting immune system health and fighting chronic conditions. Immune boosting might be harmful in MS, so caution is advised.

Research is limited, and people with suspected allergies to bee stings or bee pollen should avoid all treatment options using extracts or products from honeybees.

32. Calcium

Calcium is a crucial mineral for the body’s health and proper function. It’s a common part of many diets and is a common supplement.

Research indicates that calcium plays an important role in:

  • bone health
  • cardiovascular health
  • cancer risk

Proper levels of calcium are important for everyone, but individuals with MS who are also taking vitamin D or medications with one of these ingredients should consult their healthcare provider before adding one of these supplements to their routine.

Vitamin D increases the body’s absorption of calcium, and an overdose of calcium can be toxic.

33. Cranberry

Although cranberry juice (unsweetened 100 percent juice, not cocktail or mixed juices) and cranberry tablets have long been used to fend off urinary tract infections, research indicates that its benefit may be less than previously expected.

However, diluted pure cranberry juice, which is high in antioxidants, and cranberry tablets may be an easy way to give people living with MS who experience bladder dysfunction a slight advantage. Complications with this remedy are rare.

34. DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid, which can be obtained by consuming:

  • vegetable oils
  • fatty fish
  • omega-3 dietary supplements

According to the NCCIH, DHA is essential for:

  • blood flow
  • muscle activity
  • digestion
  • cell growth
  • brain function

In those living with MS, DHA supplements may help protect the CNS. Its ability to promote brain health may prove beneficial for people with MS. Side effects of DHA supplementation are typically mild, although it can thin the blood and make clotting difficult.

Most people with MS may be able to safely use DHA supplements with their healthcare provider’s oversight.

35. Fish or cod liver oil

Fish liver oil and cod liver oil are not the same as plain fish oils, which many people take for the omega-3 fatty acids. Liver oils from fish contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and D, which can cause overdose effects in large amounts.

Some research indicates that cod liver oil isn’t as helpful as regular fish in the diet.

It’s important to note that the vitamin D in cod liver oil may have a protective effect prior to the onset of MS. In general, however, vitamin D and the fatty acids found in fish liver and its oils may offer a variety of health benefits from which people with MS aren’t excluded.

36. Magnesium

Magnesium is essential for a wide variety of bodily functions. Deficiencies in this mineral can cause:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • tingling
  • cramps
  • seizures
  • muscle contraction
  • numbness
  • personality changes

Magnesium supplements and a diet containing natural sources of magnesium may be beneficial for preventing a deficiency that could aggravate symptoms of MS.

37. Mineral oil

Often used to treat constipation and for skin care, mineral oil is commonly found in cosmetics and laxatives. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the use of mineral oil for laxative purposes shouldn’t be done for long-term relief.

It’s possible to overdose on mineral oil. Its minerals and vitamins can build up to toxic levels in the body. This oil can also make other gastrointestinal problems worse in some individuals.

38. Multimineral and multivitamin supplements

Although they can be purchased as separate supplements, many supplements combine numerous vitamins and minerals in a single pill or powder. In most cases, it’s preferable to obtain as many nutrients as possible from a healthy balanced diet.

However, some health conditions make it harder for people to get enough vitamins and minerals out of food, which makes it easier to develop deficiencies.

There’s still disagreement in the scientific community as to the importance of multiminerals or multivitamins in the prevention of a wide range of health conditions and the maintenance of health.

Some evidence does suggest that certain varieties of multimineral or multivitamin supplementation may help prevent:

For some individuals with MS, a general multimineral or multivitamin supplement may help prevent deficiencies that could worsen symptoms of the disease.

39. Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids

Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids (EFAs), or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), that are revered for their potential to promote everything from a healthy cardiovascular system to a healthy brain.

Although their exact impact on MS is yet unknown, clinical studies are underway.

The anti-inflammatory and immune-promoting effects of these fats are expected to be a promising option. These fatty acids can be found naturally in foods as well as in over-the-counter (OTC) supplements.

40. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)

PUFAs can be obtained naturally through your diet or in OTC supplements.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be helpful for reducing inflammation and promoting health in a variety of ways, but the role of PUFAs in treating MS symptoms isn’t well studied.

Some research suggests that PUFA supplements may reduce the severity and length of MS relapses.

41. Probiotics

Probiotics are bacteria that are thought to be helpful to the body. They are often called “good bacteria” and are similar to the microorganisms found in the human body. Probiotics are available in the form of supplements and yogurts.

In general, probiotics may have anti-inflammatory properties that may boost immune and neurological health.

42. Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that’s becoming increasingly well understood for its contribution to human health. It has long been used to prevent heart problems and a number of different cancers, although scientific support for selenium’s effects is limited.

Research indicates it plays an important role in:

  • eye health
  • immune system health
  • a variety of chronic health conditions

43. Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin is found in soybeans. It’s rich in choline, which may be linked to better heart and brain health. It’s not been studied well enough in people with MS to determine whether it’s helpful for treating MS symptoms.

44. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that’s necessary in small amounts for human health.

It’s used to:

  • boost the immune system
  • treat a variety of eye problems
  • address skin conditions
  • protect against viruses and neurodegenerative conditions

More research is needed, but it’s possible that some individuals with MS may benefit from the apparent promotion of eye health and the neuroprotective effect of zinc.

In general, research into natural remedies for MS, as with most other diseases, is limited. Human trials must be based on significant lab and animal research findings, which can be a lengthy scientific process.

In the meantime, people interested in using herbal and supplement therapies should take extreme caution. It’s essential to discuss all plans to use alternative or complementary therapies with your healthcare provider prior to making any changes in your treatment regimen.

Many herbs and supplements have strong medicinal properties. Because of this, they may interact with prescription medications, other herbs and supplements, and even your diet.

Effective MS treatments may vary significantly from person to person. Take the time to work with your healthcare provider to build a sensible treatment regimen, then reap the benefits.