Several years ago I met a young woman who has multiple sclerosis and who impressed me with her dedication to fighting the disease with all things natural. During our conversations, we discussed some of the natural, alternative and complementary approaches available to help individuals live a better life with MS.
At the time I had just written a short article about an antioxidant supplement that had shown some success in alleviating symptoms, and she urged me to continue looking for and writing about nonconventional ways to deal with MS. So I did.
I have kept my promise to her and over the past few years and have penned numerous articles on her requested topic. In the meantime, I have learned a lot about this complicated and often misunderstood disease, but I’ve only scratched the surface. There are many different theories and schools of thought about its causes and how to effectively prevent and treat it. Thus far, no one can realistically claim they have THE answers to the many questions still hanging over the head of this devastating disease.
But that does not mean many of the various options for treatment do not have merit. As with any medical condition, what works for one individual may not work for another. I firmly believe people have the right to consider the pros and cons of available remedies or preventive measures.
So with all that in mind, here is a sampling of a few natural, alternative and complementary treatments for multiple sclerosis. If any pique your interest, I hope you explore them further.
Probiotics for Multiple Sclerosis
The friendly, beneficial bacteria known as probiotics are most often associated with gastrointestinal conditions. Since MS patients often experience bladder and bowel problems, probiotics seem to be natural choice. In addition, recent research has indicated that inflammatory bowel disease is like MS, since both share a common characteristic: leaky gut.
Beneficial bacteria also have been shown to be useful in nurturing the immune system. The authors of research appearing in Brain, Behavior and Immunity noted that the microorganisms in the gut “predisposes host susceptibility to CNS [central nervous system] autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.” Another study in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine pointed out there is “fairly promising evidence to recommend” the use of probiotics for autoimmune disorders.
I have heard from several women with MS that yoga is their lifeline. Numerous studies support the claim that routine practice of yoga can be immensely supportive. For example, a study from Rutgers School of Health Related Professions found that two 90-minute sessions of yoga per week for two months resulted in an improved ability to walk (both time and distance), better balance and motor coordination, reduced fatigue and pain, improved mental concentration and eyesight, and better bladder control.
Hippotherapy for Multiple Sclerosis
No, this isn’t about hippos, although the term “hippotherapy” comes from the Greek word “hippos,” which means horse. Hippotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the movement of a horse to help individuals with neuromusculoskeletal problems that involve balance, sensorimotor function, muscle tone, and coordination.
Several studies of hippotherapy for multiple sclerosis have shown that the movements of the horse helps improve neuromuscular function. A review of three studies of hippotherapy for MS patients found, for example, that the therapy improved quality of life, had a positive effect on balance, and that individuals who had primary progressive MS demonstrated even more improvement than did patients with other forms of the disease.
Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific sites on the feet, ears, or hands that correspond to particular systems or organs in the body. This is a therapy that you can learn yourself or have a family member or friend do for you. However, professional reflexologists may be a good place to start.
This complementary therapy has been shown to relieve symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. For example, one 11-week study randomly assigned 53 individuals to either a treatment group or a sham group. Participants in the treatment group received pressure to very specific points as well as massage of the calves. Those in the sham group received massage only.
During a three-month follow-up period, the researchers found that patients in the reflexology group had significant improvement in spasticity, urinary symptoms, and feelings of tingling and burning (paresthesias) but those in the sham group did not. Patients in both groups enjoyed improvement in muscle strength.
Marijuana for Multiple Sclerosis
Although some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, some people still consider the use of this substance to be an “alternative” option. In addition, most of the states that have approved the use of medical marijuana have been slow in making it available. In any case, numerous research endeavors have supported the use of marijuana for MS, especially for spasticity.
Some of the best results have been seen with a spray marijuana product called Sativex. In one study, for example, patients improved by an average of 18.2 percent in lower limb spasticity after four weeks of treatment. In another trial, Sativex use resulted in an improvement in spasticity of 57 percent within 10 days of starting treatment.
I offer these suggestions for anyone with multiple sclerosis who wants to consider natural, alternative/complementary, or integrative treatment options. Naturally, any therapy should be discussed with a knowledgeable healthcare provider. I wish you health and inner peace.
References to Consider
Bronson C et al. Does hippotherapy improve balance in persons with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2010 Sep; 46(3): 347-53
Doulatabad SN et al. The effects of pranayama, hatha and raja yoga on physical pain and the quality of life of women with multiple sclerosis. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 Oct 1: 10(1): 49-52
Hughes CM et al. Reflexology for the treatment of pain in people with multiple sclerosis: a double-blind randomized sham-controlled clinical trial. Multiple Sclerosis 2009 Nov; 15(11): 1329-38
Leocani L et al. Effect of THC-CBD oromucosal spray (Sativex) on measures of spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS 2014; Abstract LB3
Miller L et al. Evaluation of the effects of reflexology on quality of life and symptomatic relief in multiple sclerosis patients with moderate to severe disability: a pilot study. Clinical Rehabilitation 2013 Jul; 27(7): 591-98
Munoz-Lasa S et al. Effect of therapeutic horseback riding on balance and gait of people with multiple sclerosis. G Ital Med Lav Ergon 2011 Oct-Dec; 33(4): 462-67
Ozdemir O. Any role for probiotics in the therapy or prevention of autoimmune diseases? Up-to-date review. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 2013 Aug 6:10
Patil NJ et al. Effect of integrated yoga on neurogenic bladder dysfunction in patients with multiple sclerosis. A prospective observational case series. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2012 Dec; 20(6): 424-30
Wang Y, Kasper LH. The role of microbiome in central nervous system disorders. Brain, Behavior and Immunity2014 May; 38:1-2