Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive and degenerating neurological disorder where the body’s own immune system attacks the protective sheath around the nerves leading to demyelination and scarring of nerve tissue. This results in the nerves being unable to send electrical signals, thus compromising the communication between the brain and spinal cord. MS affects more women than men, and symptoms first start around the age of 20-50 yrs.
The exact reason for the autoimmune behaviour is still unknown but the following reasons1 have been suggested;
- A combination of genetic factors that make some people more susceptible
- Environmental factors such as a viruses in the environment that act as a trigger, and the lack of vitamin D. Studies have suggested the role of vitamin D in MS, however the exact link is still unclear.
There are several forms of MS,
- Relapsing remitting MS, where between attacks symptoms may improve but with each attack new symptoms may appear.
- Progressive MS, where symptoms slowly accumulate over a period of time.
- Secondary progressive MS, where usually around 15 yrs about half of the people with relapsing remitting MS go on to develop progressive MS.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
It is true that no two MS people will have the same experiences. Symptoms of MS vary from one person to another and depend on the type of nerves and amount of damage that has occurred. This can vary from changes in sensitivity, either loss or tingling and numbness, problems with speech, swallowing and vision, fatigue, pain, muscle weakness, stiffness, and bowel and bladder difficulties.
Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
Currently, there is no known cure for MS and medical treatments aim to prevent new attacks, return function and prevent disability. This includes;
- Disease modifying drugs designed to reduce the number of relapses and/or slow the progression of MS.
- Steroids to speed up recovery from relapses.
- Rehabilitation using physiotherapy.
Integrative & Complementary medicine
The benefits of using of complementary therapies for MS varies from person to person. One person may find acupuncture extremely useful, while another will find massage or reiki helpful. Managing stress in MS is extremely important as it contributes to relapses and progression of MS. The National Institute of Health & Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends the use of complementary therapies for those with MS to support general well-being. A number of therapies may be useful;
Acupuncture: Acupuncture is often used for MS to manage pain, anxiety, fatigue, depression, stiffness and insomnia with some reported benefits. Research shows that acupuncture treatment spcifically helps by promoting vascular and immuno-modulating factors which helps to reduce inflammatory cells and therefore inflammation. It assists in the body’s healing process by promoting growth factors that preserve nerves, and cause remyelination and functional improvements of the spinal cord. Pain is reduced by lowering sensitivity to pain and stress, and mood is enhanced through deactivation of the ‘analytical’ brain lessening anxiety and worry. Muscle and joint stiffness is improved by increase in local microcirculation, which also disperses products of inflammation and swelling.
Nutrition would be aimed at regaining a healthy and strong immune system by tackling the need for anti-oxidants, vitamin and mineral supplementation, omega-3 and reducing any possible gut problems. Many people have found the book “Understanding MS” by Judy Graham to be excellent where the importance of diet is detailed particularly well. This book may be available at your local library.
Aromatherapy & Massage is helpful to reduce pain and joint stiffness, as well as for relaxation and sleep. Essential oils such as lavender, sweet marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary can help with muscular fatigue, stiffness and pain.
Other therapies: Relaxation, meditation, biofeedback, music therapy, yoga and tai chi may be helpful to manage stress and muscle stiffness. Herbs must be used with caution especially due to the side effects as possibility of drug interactions. Professional health advice must be obtained prior to taking any herbal remedies.
1. MS Society. (2012). What is MS: Causes of MS. MS Society. [Weblink]
Revised: Jan 2014.