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Multiple Sclerosis: Alternative Treatments

Topic Overview

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS). So far, the only treatments proved to affect the course of the disease are disease-modifying medicines, such as interferon beta. Other types of treatment should not replace these medicines if you are a candidate for treatment with them.

Some people who have MS report that alternative treatments have worked for them. This may be in part due to the placebo effect. The placebo effect means that you feel better after getting treatment, even though the treatment may not have been proved to work. Some complementary therapies may help relieve stress, depression, fatigue, and muscle tension. And some may improve your overall well-being and quality of life.

A summary of evidence on complementary and alternative therapies suggests that some treatments may help relieve symptoms. For example:1

  • Some forms of natural or man-made substances related to marijuana may help with muscle stiffness (spasticity) and pain.
  • Ginkgo biloba or magnetic therapy may help relieve fatigue for some people.
  • Reflexology, where a therapist applies pressure to certain points on the feet, may help relieve skin feelings such as tingling and numbness.

The summary showed that several other complementary and alternative treatments are not likely to help. For example:1

  • Natural or man-made substances related to marijuana are unlikely to help relieve tremor.
  • Ginkgo biloba does not help people who have MS think more clearly.
  • The Cari Loder regimen (lofepramine plus phenylalanine with vitamin B12) is not likely to help improve general quality of life or to relieve depression or disability.
  • Magnetic therapy is unlikely to help relieve depression.

Some people think that certain things may increase the risk of having an attack of MS, including:

  • Dietary deficiencies.
  • Sensitivity to foods and environmental toxins (including mercury amalgam in dental work).
  • Sensitivity to stress and trauma.
  • Viral infection while at a young age that causes a permanent, partial breakdown in the immune system.
  • Blockage in the veins that drain blood from the brain.

Many people who have MS also experiment with their diets, in part because there are many claims about the effectiveness of certain diets and nutritional supplements in the treatment of MS.

  • The Swank Diet recommends low intake of saturated fat [maximum of 3 tsp (15 mL) a day] and high consumption of polyunsaturated fat [up to 10 tsp (49 mL) a day for very active people].
  • Evening primrose oil, the most widely used herbal supplement in MS, has not been shown to provide any significant benefit in controlling the disease.
  • Many practitioners recommend dietary supplements of large doses of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).
  • Vitamin B12 has been proposed as a key substance that should be injected (intravenously or intramuscularly) in very large doses.
  • Magnesium supplements are believed to reduce spasticity. But this theory has never been proved.
  • Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by a small gland (pineal gland) in the brain. One theory suggests that MS may be associated with dysfunction of the pineal gland and lower-than-normal levels of melatonin, which may disrupt the immune system. It has been proposed that higher melatonin levels (obtained by taking melatonin supplements) may protect against MS relapses. But his theory has never been proved.

There is no evidence to show that any of these diets or supplements have any benefit in the treatment of MS. A healthful, balanced diet will provide all the nutrients you need in most cases. Good nutrition may also help you feel better and benefit your overall health.

Be careful about taking supplements. Some minerals and vitamins are toxic if they are taken in large amounts.

Discuss your treatment options with your doctor before trying any type of alternative treatment for MS. You can also get reliable advice from an MS treatment center or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Vijayshree Y, et al. (2014). Summary of evidence-based guideline: Complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 82(12): 1083–1092.

Other Works Consulted

  • Vijayshree Y, et al. (2014). Summary of evidence-based guideline: Complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 82(12): 1083–1092.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Current as of May 22, 2014

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