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7 Tips: What You Should Know About Complementary Health Approaches for Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. In MS, the body’s immune system attacks myelin, which coats nerve cells. Symptoms of MS include muscle weakness (often in the hands and legs), tingling and burning sensations, numbness, chronic pain, coordination and balance problems, fatigue, vision problems, and difficulty with bladder control. For more information on MS, visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Web site.

Although MS has no cure, some conventional treatments can improve symptoms, reduce the number and severity of relapses, and delay the disease’s progression. Many people with MS try some form of complementary health approach, often special diets and dietary supplements. Here are 7 things to know about complementary health approaches for MS.

  1. Practicing yoga may help with fatigue and mood, but there’s no evidence that yoga can help with mobility or thinking ability.

  2. Reflexology (applying pressure to the soles of the feet) may reduce a burning or prickling sensation sometimes associated with MS, but larger studies are needed to provide a reliable conclusion.

  3. Studies of magnetic therapy, which involves devices that use an electrical current to generate a magnetic field, have shown mixed results for MS-related fatigue.

  4. Chemicals in marijuana known as THC/cannabinoids may relieve spasticity and/or pain in people with MS. While no marijuana-derived medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat MS in the United States, Canada and some European countries have approved Sativex®, a mouth spray with THC/cannabinoids for muscle control related to MS.

  5. Dietary supplements such as fish oil and ginkgo biloba have not been shown to be helpful for MS.

  6. One large, 5-year study suggests that low blood levels of vitamin D may be a risk factor for long-term disease activity and progression. However, more studies need to be done to determine if vitamin D supplementation is beneficial.

  7. Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.