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:footnote 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:footnote 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