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Complementary & Alternative Medicine for MS: Highlights from AAN 2014

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,

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • ThisBSMS
    6 years ago

    That is good info. I have to get some cannabis. Unfortunately, it is very difficult here in NJ (legally at least). Illegally, probably much easier (I haven’t tried).

    Also, was there anything on helping with insomnia? I think it is a side effect of Copaxone for me. Before Copaxone I could sleep well without assistance of any medication. Now even with meds, I wake up a few times during the night and suffer the side effects of sleep meds I took at night.
    Can’t win here.

  • JM
    6 years ago

    One of the CAM that was not mentioned in the article was acupuncture; what if anything was discussed at the AAN conference concerning this?

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    the report puts acupuncture in the list of ‘not enough known’ but I have to say I am waiting for a callback from my acpuncturist if he can see me today.

    They write- “Because studies were unavailable or, where available, had a high risk of bias, were in conflict, or lacked statistical precision, we found the evidence insufficient to support or refute the effectiveness of the following therapies in MS (table 1): acetyl-L-carnitine, acupuncture, biofeedback, carnitine, chelation therapy, Chinese medicine, chiropractic medicine, creatine monohydrate, dental amalgam replacement, glucosamine sulfate, hippotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen, inosine, linoleic acid, low-dose naltrexone, massage therapy, mindfulness training, music therapy, naturopathic medicine, neural therapy, Padma 28, progressive muscle relaxation therapy, tai chi, threonine, transdermal histamine, and yoga”

  • Na Kolohe
    6 years ago

    Thank you for the information. Currently on the promotional speakers circuit there is a Dr. who is promoting the “Paleo” diet as being the cure for her MS “symptoms”. (Note the vague language) While no doubt a healthy diet can help with general health, I have serious doubts about it being able to “cure” the disease, which she does not outright claim instead letting people conveniently jump to that conclusion on their own and that strikes me as fraud. This seems very similar to the Dr. Roy Swank’s MS low fat fat diet book, from 50 years ago, another vicious disproven fallacy. Maybe an evaluation of the extended list of disproven cures would be helpful so people are not recycling these that have already been disproven, like Bee sting therapy you mention. You could also include:Amalgam filling replacement, Plasmapheresis, CCSVI, Running marathons, Hyperbaric oxygen, and Mega doses of intravenous Vitamin B, for starters. I have been an MS patient for over 30 years and I have seen all of these promoted as a cure and some of these frauds have even recycled 2 and 3 times. The real victims here are the MS patients, their caregivers and their families who are desperate for a cure and will spend their scarce dollars on anything, even snake oil from Dr.s.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    There is such a blurring between anecdotal evidence and scientific proof and it always seems to be the same outcome – people with MS still in the same spot. Human nature being what it is, no matter what warnings are given, we will still desperately try ‘new’ ways to cure our MS. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Rendeanne
    6 years ago

    Good information Laura! Thank you for sharing! I too, along with Kim, am surprised about the lack of effectiveness of yoga. It seems to help me so I’m not stopping it! 🙂


  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    I just found it surprising that the ‘literature’ doesn’t reflect any studies on yoga and these other CAMs. They aren’t saying it doesn’t work, just there is no proof that it does – kind of splitting hairs!

  • Kim Dolce moderator
    6 years ago

    Good to know, Laura, thanks for the update. There were no surprises in that report except one, that there was no evidence supporting the effectiveness of yoga on spasticity. Still, I don’t imagine that will make anyone give up doing it if it’s working for them, and that’s the important thing.


  • ThisBSMS
    6 years ago

    Hi Kim-
    Yoga can be helpful. It help me rebuild my body after a nasty relapse that made me use wheelchair, bc I lost balance and coordination along with sensation in my legs. However, it worsened my other attack about 1 year later. As I was doing the poses, it just made everything so much worse and helped with spreading the numbness up from my toes to waistline. So, I say, you really have to assess how it makes you feel and just be careful with any kind of workout/exercise routine. Now I workout with professional trainer 1 a week at a gym and so far no problems. But I am extra careful!

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