Complementary & Alternative Medicine for MS: Highlights from AAN 2014

Among the papers discussed at the 2014 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual meeting, was the Summary of evidence-based guideline: Complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. For the purpose of this report, CAM are those therapies we might seek that are not performed in a hospital setting or prescribed by a doctor.

The report acknowledges that people with MS tend to look for additional therapies to help with the many symptoms of MS and it is estimated over 60% of us use one or more of these CAM to help us with our MS Quality of Life (MS QOL). Many of these CAMs are used in non-western medicine and even though they might not improve our MS, they could still positively impact our overall sense of well-being, but that is not considered in this review.

The list of recommendations and positions comes from a group of researchers doing a review of scientific literature (peer reviewed studies that have been published in reputable scientific journals) that have appeared in print between 1970 and 2013. The results from 43 years of studies on CAM and MS were then rated for the strength of the study design. The researchers looked solely at evidence based research and did not include anecdotal evidence in their recommendations.

From this analysis, the researchers surmised the following outcomes for CAMS often associated with MS treatments:

  • Cannabis extract for spasticity and pain (not including neuropathic pain) could be offered and might be effective.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, a derivative of cannabis) for spasticity and pain (not including neuropathic pain) could be offered.
  • Cannabis extract and THC are probably not useful for tremor.
  • Sativex, an oromucosal cannabinoid spray, can be a useful agent for spasticity, pain and urinary frequency, but is probably not useful for tremors and urinary incontinence.

There was much more presented on the use of cannabis in the treatment of MS and I will be writing about that in a separate post.

  • Magnetic therapy probably works for fatigue but is ineffective for depression.
  • Save your money on buying fish oil or gingko bilboa – they don’t work for relapses, disability, fatigue, MRI lesions or cognitive function.
  • Reflexology might be effective for paresthesia.
  • Cari Loder regiment doesn’t work for fatigue, depression or other symptoms.
  • Bee sting therapy is possibly ineffective, because it isn’t shown to work for relapses, disability, fatigue or any of the other things tested over several decades.

The review also produced an extensive list of CAMs that have no evidence in the literature that it is proven to be good for MS. That list includes: Biofeedback, Music therapy, hypnosis, hippotherapy, yoga and mindfulness-based training.
Keep in mind that these are merely suggestions for doctors to follow and are only based on what previous research has shown to work or not work. This summary from AAN is not intended to be a complete listing, but it does give treating physicians an easy to understand reference to consult the next time we show up in their office wanting to discuss alternative treatments we have read about and might want to try.

Wishing you well,

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