Written by MasterHealth Staff
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Remyelination is the process by which new myelin sheaths (like the rubber tube around an electrical cord) form around previously injured and demyelinated axons.
This is accomplished when precursor cells develop into oligodendrocytes (a type of brain cell), which then become myelin. In a demyelinating disease such as multiple sclerosis, remyelination may help restore lost function.
The myelin sheath is the insulating and conducting layer that encapsulates the nerves within the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves behind the eyes.
Imagine the myelin sheath like the rubber tube that surrounds an electrical cord. The myelin serves a similar function as the rubber tube by guiding the ions (or electrons in the electrical cord) along a more effective circuit.
This increased efficiency in nerve conduction allows most of us to move and think without delay. The demyelination in MS, however, creates a delay in the nerve impulse, leading to delays in the associated function of that nerve (i.e. motor or cognitive functions).
In a demyelinating disease, the myelin sheath can become damaged by the immune system (autoimmune injury), cell death, or infection. This causes the nerve signals to become weaker, and since the nerves are responsible for initiating muscle action, demyelination often results in functional and cognitive impairment.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common demyelinating disease. Other conditions that may cause demyelination include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and transverse myelitis.
These conditions differ from MS because they can also be caused by different types of damage to the nerve, such as nerve cell shrinkage and cell death (such as in ALS and stroke), or caused by infection (such as in Guillain-Barre syndrome and transverse myelitis) rather than the idiopathic (unknown) origin of MS.
Remyelination, the process of myelin sheath repair, has more recently become the center of focus for research into the treatment of MS and other demyelinating diseases.
Since demyelination is the main cause of MS symptoms, it’s important that myelin sheath repair becomes a new goal, in addition to preventing autoimmune attack.
To achieve remyelination, The Wahls Protocol® emphasizes the importance of various plant compounds, supplements, and natural interventions to support myelin sheath repair and prevent further deterioration. These include regular physical exercise, sleep, diet, and maintaining a healthy microbiome.
Read our primer on The Wahls Protocol, to better understand the recommended diet and lifestyle interventions.
Remyelination has been observed to occur during sleep.
In a study conducted in 2019 (titled: The role of sleep and wakefulness in myelin plasticity), the researchers Luisa de Vivo and Michele Bellesi observed an increased production of myelin precursor proteins during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, along with the deposition of myelin on nerve axons. Meanwhile, the opposite was found to be true of sleep deprivation – that it can reduce myelin thickness.
Sleep deprivation and sleep loss was found to cause structural and molecular changes to the microglial cells, which are responsible for the ‘clean-up’ in the brain.
These structural changes in the microglia can result in neurotoxic effects caused by the release of inflammatory and cytotoxic compounds including cytokines and reactive oxygen species that destroy healthy brain structures, including myelin.
This is why Dr. Terry Wahls, MD, recommends sleeping for 8-9 hours every night, with a bedtime before 10pm since the greatest about of healing takes place when we sleep between 10pm-2am.
Myelin sheath integrity is supported by dietary micronutrients like vitamin-K and choline, as well as beneficial microorganisms.
In the gut, vitamin-K1 is converted into vitamin-K2 by ‘helpful’ bacteria. Vitamin-K2 is then used by the body to produce myelin and support bone health. As a result, increasing bacterial diversity through probiotic supplementation can increase vitamin-K2 production and synthesis of myelin.
Supplementing with vitamin-K2 or increasing microbial diversity is especially important for people living with MS, since this population has been found to have lower levels of K2 compared to healthy controls.
Wahls Protocol® compatible food sources of vitamin K:
- Leafy greens (K1)
- Roasted turkey
- Beef liver
- Clarified butter (ghee)
- Emu oil
Another remyelination supplement that was observed to have neuroprotective and regenerative functions is choline.
In a 2014 and 2021 multiple sclerosis animal study, CDP-choline supplementation was found to ameliorate the disease course and have beneficial effects on nerve cells within the central nervous system, specifically the myelin, oligodendrocytes (myelin precursor cells), and nerve axons.
Choline is involved in the synthesis of myelin and can be taken in the form of phosphatidylcholine (PC) supplements to support myelin regeneration.
Demyelination has been found to be associated with reduced bacterial diversity, which means that supplementing with probiotics or eating fermented foods may help reduce the degree or severity of demyelination.
In a study led by W. G. Branton investigating the microbiome within the brain of MS patients, samples were taken from autopsied brains of people who had MS and non-MS controls. The researchers found a greater diversity of bacteria associated with the samples obtained from relapsing-remitting MS and healthy controls, compared to those who suffered from progressive forms of MS.
Supplementing with a full-spectrum probiotic can help to increase microbial diversity, thereby increasing blood levels of vitamin-K2, reducing inflammation and demyelination, while improving mood, digestion, and immune health.
Increasing evidence demonstrates that important brain changes occur following physical exercise and socialization, such as increases in oligodendrocyte precursor cells responsible for myelination.
Exercise has also been found to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which stimulates the growth of new myelinated neurons within the brain and spine. This is incredibly important in preventing and delaying the progression of various neurodegenerative diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS.
The Wahls Protocol® is offered as a mobile program in the MasterHealth app. It guides you through the complexities of the protocol so that you can optimize remyelination, while keeping you accountable in reaching your health goals.
You’ll get a personalized health program, along with exclusive videos, coaching, peer groups, reports on your health goals, with new capabilities being added each month.