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Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Multiple Sclerosis

The term alternative therapy, in general, is used to describe any medical treatment or intervention that has not been scientifically documented or identified as safe or effective for a specific condition.

Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that range from diet and exercise to mental conditioning to lifestyle changes. Examples include acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, and massage.

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Complementary therapies are alternative therapies used in addition to traditional treatments. For example, you may have weekly massages to complement your drug treatment.

What Alternative Therapies Are Recommended for Multiple Sclerosis?

  • Positive Attitude. Having a positive outlook cannot cure multiple sclerosis, but it can reduce your stress and help you feel better.
  • Exercise. Exercises, such as tai chi and yoga can lower stress, help you to be more relaxed, and increase energy, balance, and flexibility. As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before getting started.
  • Diet. It is important for people with MS to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet. Ask your doctor what diet is right for you.

What Are Some Other Alternative/Complementary Options for Multiple Sclerosis?

  • Massage. Many people with multiple sclerosis receive regular massage therapy to help relax and reduce stress and depression, which can exacerbate the disease. There is no evidence that massage changes the course of the disease. It is usually safe for people with MS to receive a massage, but if you have bone-thinning osteoporosis (usually as a result of your treatments) massage may be dangerous. Talk to your doctor first.
  • Acupuncture. Some people with MS report that acupuncture provides some relief of symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, or bladder control problems. There have been no scientific studies to confirm this or to document that acupuncture is safe for people with MS. Also, keep in mind that there are always risks when a procedure involves puncturing the body with needles as is done with acupuncture. The main risk is infection. Unless sterile techniques are used, acupuncture could transmit hepatitis or HIV.
  • Evening primrose oil (linoleic acid). Linoleic acid is also found in sunflower seeds and safflower oil. There is some evidence that taking an oral supplement of linoleic acid may slightly improve MS symptoms.
  • Diet. It is important for people with MS to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep them as healthy as possible. Discuss any dietary concerns you may have with your doctor.
  • Marijuana. The use of marijuana to treat any illness remains highly controversial. Some people with MS claim that smoking marijuana helps relieve spasticity and other MS-related symptoms. However, there is little evidence to date that marijuana really works. Research is ongoing to answer this important question. Until more is known, doctors do not recommend the use of marijuana to treat MS as the drug is associated with serious long-term side effects such as heart attack or memory loss.

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