14 Alternative Medicine Options for Multiple Sclerosis

September 27, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
In recent years, treatments combining traditional medicine and alternative medicine have gained popularity with multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. These blended treatments are referred to as Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM. David Duncan M.D., FAAN, explains how CAM treatments enhance traditional medicine.

How is MS treated with traditional medicine?

In addition to medication, traditional treatment for MS may include:
  • Neuropsychology evaluations
  • Swallow and speech therapy
  • Physical therapy and occupational therapy
  • Sexual dysfunction care
  • Resilience counseling


How does traditional medicine treat MS differently than alternative medicine?

“Traditional medicine consists of medication and various forms of therapy to modify the disease’s course and reduce symptoms. Alternative treatments reduce symptoms through approaches related to lifestyle,” says Dr. Duncan, “They often involve your diet and fitness habits and include activities you may consider hobbies.” Nonetheless, the best treatment approaches manage symptoms, treat relapses, attempt to modify the disease’s course, promote function through rehabilitation and provide emotional support.

What are alternative treatments, and which are part of CAM?

Alternative treatments can be divided into categories such as food and diet, exercise and stress management. Though alternative treatments may effectively reduce symptoms, they do not treat the disease itself. Specific treatment methods are outlined below:

Food and Diet

Maintain a healthy diet. There is no evidence that a specific diet can prevent, treat or cure MS, but making the right choices can help prevent symptoms from worsening. The American Heart Association and American Cancer Society advise adults maintain a high-fiber, low-fat diet high in Omega 3 and Omega 6. “Maintaining a heart healthy diet rich in unprocessed/naturally processed foods is important for MS patients because the disease is associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which actually makes symptoms worse” Dr. Duncan shares.” Alcohol should also be limited as much as possible.”

Drink cranberry juice. MS patients have a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs). To reduce this risk and help eliminate bacteria from your urine, drink cranberry juice or eat foods high in Vitamin C.

Maintain healthy vitamin and mineral levels. For someone with MS, this is very important.

Vitamin D and calcium help maintain bone strength.

Vitamins B6 and B12 provide energy.

Biotin helps nourish hair, skin and nails.

Vitamin C helps prevent UTIs.

Zinc helps fight off bacteria.

Selenium is vital to DNA production and protecting the body from infection.

Taking a multivitamin can help, but it’s important to have your levels checked regularly.


Exercise

Consult your primary care physician before partaking in exercise classes, but generally speaking, MS patients can perform most exercises safely. The most important tip to remember is know your limits.

Strength training is crucial to your overall health and fitness. It helps burn fat, build muscle and strengthen bones. Some examples include:

  • Lifting free weights (dumbbells)
  • Using your body weight (planks or pull-ups)
  • Using resistance bands
  • Utilizing gym weight machines


Stretching and balance exercises
 work in conjunction with strength training to improve mobility and muscular control. Yoga simultaneously stimulates and calms the body through relaxing and rhythmic movements. It can reduce blood pressure, improve arthritis pain and prompt weight loss.

Many symptoms of MS lead to balance issues. Balance exercises promote balance and coordination without putting pressure on your joints. For some MS patients, regaining control of their balance leads to regaining their ability to stand and walk.

Everyday actions have physical and psychological benefits for people with MS. Some examples include housework, gardening, dancing and playing with pets. Other exercise options to consider include aerobics, swimming, adaptive sports, Tai Chi and Pilates.

Stress Management

Do you feel anxious, overwhelmed, nauseous, fatigued or restless? All of these are common signs of stress that can increase the frequency of MS attacks. The good news is, there are several natural ways to manage and reduce stress, including:

  • Meditation. Meditating for 15 minutes a day can help reduce stress and clear your mind.
  • Practice positive thinking. Having a positive outlook on life can greatly improve your mental state. Think twice before using the phrase, “I can’t” throughout the day. Use empowering statements such as “I can”, “I will” and “I want to…” instead.
  • Engage in healthy self-expression. You may like writing or drawing, knitting or singing. Relieve stress by doing something you enjoy.
  • Monitor depressing thoughts and moods. These feelings can be symptoms of MS, but can also be a side effect of medication. If symptoms of depression continue for more than two weeks, talk to your primary care physician to determine the cause and treat it.

Other CAM Options

Acupuncture is able to reduce pain, muscle spasticity, numbness and tingling in MS patients. If you choose to try this alternative treatment method, keep in mind: 

  • It can take 6 to 10 weeks to see if this treatment is working. 
  • It’s recommended to see a certified professional at a sterile facility. If acupuncture needles are improperly handled, you’re put at high risk of getting an infection. 


Reflexology
 is a CAM therapy that involves stimulating reflex points on the soles of the feet. This is one of the most popular alternative treatments for MS patients because it’s relaxing and provides therapeutic effects throughout the body.

Massage and bodywork are also great alternative treatments for MS patients because they reduce pain, improve circulation, and relieve muscle spasticity. However, this treatment could be unsafe for some MS patients with heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, edema, ulcers or if pregnant.

Magnet therapy is an energy-based medicine that works to increase circulation and oxygenation throughout the body. Pulse Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF) is the most popular version of magnet therapy. PEMF sends an electrical frequency through the body to stimulate ions and electrolytes, improve circulation, boost energy, and reduce pain and inflammation in MS patients.

REMEMBER TO CONSULT YOUR PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN PRIOR TO ENGAGING IN ANY OF THESE ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES.


How do you know if treatment is working?

It can take up to 6 months to determine if your treatment is effective. Traditional medicine and CAM treatments are structured to slow the course of the disease and improve the patient’s quality of life by reducing the frequency and severity of MS relapses.

Early treatment is important to minimize inflammation and reduce damage to nerve tissue and loss of brain tissue.


What should you do before considering additional treatment options?

Keep your physician informed. You should be working together to create the best treatment plan to determine what’s working and what’s not.

Discuss changes before altering treatment. If you want to add alternative treatment methods to a pre-existing treatment plan, call your doctor first. Also remember to ask questions before taking new medication, adjusting your diet, or trying a new exercise routine. It can’t hurt to ask your physician if this may have side effects or cause an MS attack.

Document your treatment experience. It may take a few attempts to determine which treatment works best for you. It’s important to keep a journal tracking changes in your treatment, symptoms, frequency of relapses and anything else you’re experiencing that is out of the ordinary. And don’t be afraid to document the positive things, too!

CAM does not replace traditional medicine, rather it works together enhancing the success of available MS treatments. Dr. Duncan reminds us, “Alternative therapies complement, but do not replace the conventional treatment plan.”

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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