Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve cells (myelin) in the brain and spinal cord, impairing nerve signaling and causing a variety of symptoms.
This is a lifelong condition, but there are a variety of ways people with MS can prevent the disease from progressing, and treat or cope with symptoms.
This article discusses complementary and alternative medicine treatment options for MS.
Alternative vs. Complementary Therapies
Alternative therapies are treatment options that are used instead of modern medical options, while a complementary therapy is a treatment option used in conjunction with modern medicine. The same treatments can be used as either alternative or complementary therapies.
A number of complementary or alternative therapies can be used to help treat multiple sclerosis, including exercise, diet, acupuncture and other natural treatments.
Exercise is recommended for people with MS as it has been shown to improve symptoms and help with mental and physical health. Adapted options are available for people who have physical disabilities.
Exercise may also help change the course of the disease by slowing its progression, but more research is needed.
Physical activity options for people with MS depend on ability and preference, and may include:
- Aerobic exercise
- Strength training
- Swimming or water exercise
- Hobbies that involve movement
- Stair climbing
- Gardening, cooking, and household chores
- Yoga, Pilates, tai chi
People with MS are advised to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet to help manage symptoms and improve overall health and well-being. Nutrition may play a role in slowing the progression of MS, but more research is needed.
Some nutrition recommendations to help manage MS include:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts).
- Limit salt, animal fat, fried foods, and sugar.
- Focus on lower-calorie foods.
- Avoid overeating.
It is unclear if massage therapy improves MS, but there is research to support limited benefits without harm.
Massage may help people with symptoms such as:
Acupuncture is the use of needles inserted into the skin to stimulate different places on the body called “acupoints,” or acupressure points. This treatment may help to reduce symptoms of MS, but there is limited research to show its effectiveness.
Some MS symptoms that acupuncture may improve include:
Medical marijuana (cannabis) may help reduce specific symptoms caused by MS. It may improve MS symptoms such as:
- Spasticity: Extreme muscle stiffness or tightness
- Pain: Reduced pain related to spasticity
- Bladder challenges: Decreased need to urinate
As with any treatment option, the potential benefits must be considered along with the possible side effects. It is important to work with a healthcare professional when considering cannabis for MS treatment and to seek help if experiencing any side effects, especially and changes in mental health.
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