Multiple Sclerosis Patients Want Alternative Medicine, Do You?
People with multiple sclerosis often turn to alternative medicine to help prevent and manage this chronic disease, according to the results of new research from the University of Copenhagen. Which alternative medicine approaches are multiple sclerosis (MS) patients seeking, and what are the results?
Alternative medicine may help some MS patients
Researchers conducted a study using a questionnaire completed by 3,800 individuals who have MS and who reside in five Scandinavian countries. They discovered that the use of alternative medicine among MS patients has been increasing steadily over the past 15 years.
In fact, more than 50 percent of people in the survey said they used only alternative medicine approaches or used them along with conventional medicine. This compares with 25 percent of Danish people in a previous study who said they had tried one or more different alternative medicine treatments within the past year.
According to Lasse Skovgaard, one of the study’s authors and a PhD candidate from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society, stressed that “Here, many people with a chronic disease find they benefit from using alternative treatments, so we should not ignore this possibility.”
Based on the study, among patients with MS:
- A significantly larger proportion with a high level of education use alternative medicine treatments compared with those with a lower level of education
- Individuals with a higher income use alternative medicine more than those with a lower income
- Younger women compared with older women are more likely to use alternative medicine treatments
- These findings may dispel the idea that only naïve individuals who are looking for a miracle turn to alternative medicine, noted Skovgaard. “Our results indicate that it is primarily the well-educated segment that is subscribing to alternative treatments.”
One hope is that the results of this study will help improve how MS patients and others with chronic illnesses communicate with their healthcare providers and use alternative medicine treatments along with conventional approaches. What are some of those alternative medicine treatments for MS?
Alternative medicine for multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune degenerative disease characterized by the destruction of the myelin sheaths, which are protective coverings on the nerves. The severity of symptoms of MS depends on the degree of damage and which nerves are affected.
Among the alternative medicine approaches taken by MS patients are dietary changes. Although no specific diet has been identified for people with MS, some dietary and supplement modifications have shown some benefit. For example:
Vitamin D. Research indicates that low levels of vitamin D is associated with an increased incidence of MS and that supplementation with the vitamin may protect against its development or relapse. Since few foods are rich sources of vitamin D (e.g., salmon, sardines, mackerel, sun-dried shiitake mushrooms), taking a supplement is recommended.
A dose of 3,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day is suggested. However, individuals should consult their healthcare provider and have a vitamin D test to determine their blood levels of the nutrient.
Gluten. Studies suggest that people with multiple sclerosis are more likely to be intolerant of gluten, a protein found in all forms of wheat and thus have a higher incidence of celiac disease. Therefore, following a gluten-free diet may help some people who have MS.
Following a gluten-free diet can be a challenge, but more and more products are becoming available that do not contain gluten. People with MS can be tested to see if they have a gluten intolerance before they try such a diet.
Low-fat diet. Extensive research by several scientists, especially Dr. Roy Swank, currently a physician at the Health Science Center at the University of Oregon, has shown that individuals with MS who follow a low-fat diet may experience fewer attacks and have a 95 percent chance of not getting worse if the diet is adopted early in the course of the disease. Swank and other advocate a diet that contains about 7 percent fat.
Beyond dietary approaches, there are other alternative medicine options patients with multiple sclerosis may try.
N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc). A study from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that use of a glucosamine-like supplement called GlcNAc could disrupt the growth and function of the cells involved in attacking the immune system of people with MS. GlcNAc is not the same as other forms of glucosamine, such as glucosamine hydrochloride or glucosamine sulfate. Patients should consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider before starting GlcNAc supplementation.
Acupuncture. Several studies have shown that acupuncture can benefit individuals who have MS. A new study published in Acupuncture Medicine reports that acupuncture helped relieved fatigue (a common symptom of MS) in patients who were resistant to amantadine, a drug frequently used to treat MS patients.
Marijuana. The increasing availability of medical marijuana may make this option more accessible to people with multiple sclerosis. Several studies have indicated that marijuana is beneficial for some patients.
For example, a study at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine found that patients who smoked marijuana experienced up to a 50 percent reduction in pain and an improvement in range of motion when compared with patients who smoked a placebo. Patients who smoked marijuana also experienced some temporary problems with concentration and fatigue.
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Multiple sclerosis affects about 400,000 people in the United States and an estimated 2.5 million people around the globe. Results of this latest study indicate that more and more people with multiple sclerosis want alternative medicine options and they are trying them, facts doctors should heed when helping their patients.
Foroughipour M et al. Amantadine and the place of acupuncture in the treatment of fatigue in patients with multiple sclerosis: an observational study. Acupuncture Medicine 2013 Mar; 31(1): 27-30
Rodrigo L et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in multiple sclerosis. BMC Neurology 2011 Mar 7; 11:31
Summerday NM et al. Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis: review of a possible association. Journal of Pharmacy Practice 2012 Feb; 25(1): 75-84
Swank R. Multiple sclerosis: twenty years on low fat diet. Archives of Neurology 1970; 23:460
Swank R. Multiple sclerosis: the lipid relationship. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1988; 48:1387
University of Copenhagen