As many as 80 percent of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) choose to incorporate non-traditional therapies into their treatment plan. These treatments may be in addition to (complementary) or instead of (alternative) traditional drug therapies and other Western medicine approaches such as physical therapy. These types of treatments are collectively known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. Some people find relief from various MS symptoms by using CAM therapies, and others believe that these approaches can slow the progress of the disease or bring about remission. No drug or treatment can cure MS.
CAM therapies include medical marijuana, magnetic therapy, biofeedback, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices such as acupuncture, hypnosis, herbal therapy with various plants, chiropractic, reflexology and meditation. Some CAM approaches have been proven in clinical trials to successfully treat certain symptoms, but other approaches have not been proven effective. Some treatments come with side effects, or can interact in a dangerous way with drugs you are taking. Many people show a significant improvement when they first begin any new treatment due to the placebo effect.
If you choose to try one or more CAM therapies, it is important to maintain the drug regimen established by your doctor. Drug treatments have been proven effective in rigorous, scientific trials. It is also vital to inform your doctor of all treatments you incorporate so that they can warn you about any potential interactions and correctly interpret any side effects.
What does it involve?
Below are the basic facts of some of the CAM therapies proven to be effective in clinical trials.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Bills legalizing marijuana for medical usage are pending in eight other states. In places where marijuana products are sold legally, it is often available in a wide variety of formats. Cannabinoids (active substances in marijuana) may be purchased as lozenges, sprays, edible products and topical ointments as well as products that may be smoked or vaporized and inhaled. Ask your doctor for dosage and administration directions.
Gingko biloba extract may be taken orally. It is safest to start with a low dose, such as 120 mg per day, and gradually increase the dose. Ask your doctor before taking Gingko biloba.
Magnetic therapy involves wearing magnets on the body.
Reflexology involves a practitioner using their hands to put pressure on specific points on your body. For paresthesia (sensation of pins and needles) symptoms in MS, the pressure is focused on points in the feet and lower leg.
All CAM therapies are intended to ease various symptoms of MS and help you feel your best.
The American Academy of Neurology recently completed a review of all clinical trial results for CAM therapies and issued new guidelines that reflect its findings. According to evidence-based, scientific research, the following CAM therapies are effective in treating certain MS symptoms and warrant recommendation by physicians:
Taken orally, medical marijuana has been proven effective in treating spasticity, pain and urinary problems in people with MS.
Herbal therapy with Gingko biloba may be effective against fatigue.
Bee venom therapy may not be ineffective at treating fatigue and promoting quality of life.
Magnetic therapy may be effective in treating fatigue.
Reflexology may be helpful in treating paresthesia.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, several CAM therapies have not been sufficiently proven to have any effect on MS symptoms. There is not enough conclusive clinical support for doctors to recommend acupuncture, biofeedback, mindfulness training such as meditation, or hypnosis.
Some insurers will cover certain CAM therapies, but others may not cover any, or may not cover the specific therapy you want to try. Out-of-pocket costs CAM therapies may be expensive.
Medical marijuana may not be legal in your state. If it is, it may not be covered by insurance, and it may be expensive. Marijuana can have side effects including nausea, dry mouth, red eyes, vomiting, problems with heart or blood pressure, depression, anxiety, depression, dizziness, sleepiness and sexual dysfunction. Marijuana should not be used by pregnant women.
Gingko biloba should not be taken by people with bleeding disorders. It may cause side effects including headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, gas, or diarrhea in some people. If you are allergic to Gingko biloba, it may cause a rash.
Magnetic therapy is generally considered to be safe. However, some people have reported nausea, diarrhea, fuzzy-headedness, and heavier or more painful periods.
Reflexology is generally considered to be safe. However, some people have reported flu-like symptoms, fatigue or nausea.