Exercise Program Aimed at Reducing MS Patients' Fatigue Also May Boost Immune Function, UB Study Finds

By Lois Baker

Release Date: May 1, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While many persons with multiple sclerosis struggle to perform normal daily activities, an exercise program appears to have a positive effect on MS by bolstering the immune system and reducing inflammation, researchers at the University at Buffalo have shown.

Results presented last week at Experimental Biology 2002, the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, showed that a 16-week program of resistance exercise lowered levels of several proinflammatory blood components and increased levels of certain anti-inflammatory factors.

"We don't know yet why this happens," said Jaya Venkatraman, Ph.D., UB associate professor of nutrition and senior author on the study. "Exercise may alter immune function directly, or it may act indirectly by modifying stress and neuroendocrine factors that may play a role in maintaining optimal immune status during times of illness."

Multiple sclerosis is a complex autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the body's immune system appears to attack the sheath that protects and insulates nerve fiber, a process called demyelination. Breaks in the protective sheath disrupt the flow of electrical impulses, causing loss of sensation and coordination. MS patients are especially susceptible to fatigue.

This research on the effect of exercise on immune function in persons with MS is part of study headed by Nadine Fisher, Ed.D., UB assistant professor of occupational therapy and rehabilitation sciences. She is testing the theory that a program of resistance exercises will lessen the fatigue MS patients experience after the activities of a regular workday and decrease the amount of fatigue that remains the next morning. Exercisers use machines or free weights, concentrating on improving muscular strength, endurance and contraction speed in the arms and legs.

If inflammation of nerve tissue plays a major role in MS symptoms, as several studies have implied, reducing inflammation could improve the ability to perform daily activities.

Venkatraman took blood samples of 13 MS patients before and after the 16-week exercise program. Analysis of samples showed a decrease in proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-( and interleukin 1() and a significant increase in anti-inflammatory components (interleukins 4 and 6).

"Resistance exercise possibly may induce changes in the body's immune function by lowering levels of cytokines and chemokines, which would modulate inflammation, which in turn would decrease fatigue and improve physical performance," said Venkatraman.

Aparna Krishnan, a graduate student in Venkatraman's laboratory, also contributed to the research, which was funded by The Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation.

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