Do These Treatments Work for MS?

Bee stings, cobra venom, and hookworms are things you usually avoid -- unless you have multiple sclerosis. Then, you might be willing to try them to help ease your symptoms. And what if recycling stem cells or going gluten-free could fix your immune system? Would you give it a go?

Let's separate the science from the wishful thinking.

Some lifestyle approaches, such as exercise, have been proven to help with fatigue, depression, memory, and bladder control. Others, such as vitamin D supplements, show promise but are still being tested. Acupuncture, a centuries-old form of Chinese medicine, shows mixed results.

Your best bet is to stick to your treatment plan. Don't stop taking your medication. Talk to your doctor about any complementary medicine or alternative treatment you want to try, especially since it may affect how your drugs work. Together, you can decide if it makes sense and won't do more harm than good.

Stem Cell Therapy (HSCT)

The goal behind a hematopoietic stem cell transplant is to reboot your immune system to stop it from attacking your nervous system.

Researchers take special undeveloped cells from the blood or bone marrow of people with MS, then knock out their immune cells with low doses of chemotherapy and radiation. When the saved stem cells get put back into their bodies, they start making new immune cells that hopefully won't go after myelin and brain tissue.

The results are promising: 41 of the people studied for 2 years said their symptoms were greatly improved. After 4 years, more than half of them had no relapses. That was 80% of those in the study.

Larger, controlled studies and clinical trials are now underway.

Gluten-free Diet

In some people, the protein found in wheat can trigger celiac disease. That's also an autoimmune disorder. But research doesn't show a link between it and MS.

Unless you're sensitive to gluten, don't pass on the pasta and bread just yet. There's no science to suggest giving up these kinds of foods will ease your MS symptoms.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

You may have seen this in movies when scuba divers get "the bends." You sit in a small, sealed chamber breathing pure oxygen. Because the pressure inside is up to three times more than normal air pressure outside, you can breathe more into your lungs. This extra oxygen may help your body heal.

It works as a treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, bubbles in your bloodstream, burns from fire and heat, and wounds from diabetes and radiation. But not for MS. Several studies found no evidence to support its use and little need for more research.

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Bee Stings and Bee Pollen

Ancient Greek and Egyptian medical writing tells of bees used as medicine (apitherapy).

Melittin, found in bee venom, supposedly brings down inflammation related to MS. But one study shows that it doesn't. What's more, bee sting therapy could be dangerous if you have a life-threatening reaction to bee venom.

Skip bee pollen, too. Although it's rich with nutrients, it hasn't been shown to help MS symptoms. And it can also trigger a severe allergic reaction.

Bottom line? Bees don't stand up to 21st-century studies.

Cobra Venom

Can the cobratoxin in snake venom slow down the immune system and help with MS? That's the belief.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. While you can find stories of people who say that cobra venom helps ease MS symptoms, you won't find scientific evidence to support it.

Hookworms

Hookworms are tiny worms that can live in your small intestine and cause problems with your gut, including pain, diarrhea, and anemia. These intestinal parasites might also be able to stop the immune system from overreacting.

One small study of 12 people with MS found that those who were infected with hookworms had fewer lesions than those who weren't infected. In 2012, researchers in the UK began recruiting people with MS for a study to see if hookworms could alter the course of MS. Watch for results in the next several years.

Hypnosis

A hypnotherapist can teach you to relax so deeply that you're open to suggestions for dealing with pain. This mind-body practice has helped ease MS pain in a few, very small studies.

You may find hypnotherapy calming, but what affect it has on MS symptoms isn't clear. Larger studies are needed to find out whether the relief is actually a placebo effect.

Reiki

This form of energy healing may help boost your body's ability to heal itself. It often includes light touching.

Some people find massage in general can soothe stress and be relaxing, but there are no studies that show Reiki eases MS symptoms. That being said, Reiki is generally safe. And some research shows that it helps ease pain and anxiety for people who have cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on June 17, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "MS Symptoms," "Exercise," "Vitamin D," "Acupuncture," "Massage and Bodywork," "Stem Cells in MS."

Leavitt, V.M. Neurocase, March 2013.

Mowry, Ellen M. Annals of Neurology, August 2012.

Foroughipour, M. Acupuncture Medicine, March 2013.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence: "Alternative Health Care Systems and Multiple Sclerosis."

Burt, R.K. Journal of the American Medical Association, published online Jan. 20, 2015.

Shor, D.B. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Sept. 11, 2009.

Celiac Disease Foundation: "What is Celiac Disease?"

Webb, D. Today's Dietician, published online May 2012.

FDA: "Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Don't Be Misled."

Bennett, M. Cochrane Library, published online May 29, 2011.

Alqutub, A.N. World Journal of Hepatology, October 2011.

Yaday, Vijayshree. Neurology, March 2014.

Reid, P.F. Critical Reviews in Immunology, 2007.

CDC: "Hookworm FAQs."

Laboratory News UK: "Hookworms to Treat MS."

Correale, J. Annals of Neurology, February 2007.

Jensen, M. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, April 2009.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Reiki: An Introduction."

Thrane, S. Pain Management Nursing, February 2014.

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