Can We Lick MS?

I’ll publicly admit as a child I did some stupid things - fortunately they didn’t cause permanent damage and I have the ability to still laugh at most of them. One of the sillier things we often did as a child was our own version of daring each other to lick a 9 volt battery, which involved placing the positive and negative ends of that small metal cube to our tongue. Remember at my age these types of challenges carried less risk than what today’s children can dream up -  licking a toad or something else less benign might provide the entertainment today instead of a simple zap from a battery.

Placing that battery on the tongue gave a surprisingly strong jolt and always ended with lots of laughter; it also left an odd taste in the mouth which can’t quite be described. I never gave a thought to what that small jolt of electricity might be doing to the rest of my body, in particular my brain. It appears that while I think of licking a battery as a double-dog-dare activity, some researchers were giving it a more serious look, examining its clinical use.

Most people with MS are aware of some of the uses of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units and how they use mild electrical zaps and jolts to our nerves to guide our bodies to react appropriately. There are units that can attach to our leg to help correct foot drop. There are neuro-stimulators that can be implanted in our spine and control our bladder to make it function on electrical cues. But none of these devices have claimed to make a permanent change and their success as a therapy tool is dependent on the continuing use of electrical currents- until now.

It was announced recently that a group of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been looking at how giving these tiny electrical jolts to the tongue may change the neuro-pathways in the brains of people with disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. It turns out the tongue can do so much more than distinguish between salty, bitter or sweet - the tongue is an amazing piece of flesh and is hard wired to our brain and appears to be capable of sending instructions to rewire neural pathways through neuroplasticity.

The news articles don’t say if these researchers were surprised at the dramatic results they achieved with MS patients who used a small electrical stimulating device along with targeted exercises to test their ideas, but the initial results are mind boggling. Slate, a website that looks at Future Technology use reports the following:

“After treatment …..patients with multiple sclerosis have been shown to have a 50 percent improvement in postural balance, 55 percent improvement in walking ability, a 30 percent reduction in fatigue, and 48 percent reduction in M.S. impact scores (a measure of physical and psychological impact of M.S. from the patient’s perspective).”1

Those are some amazing numbers – and further research and development of a commercial version of their advanced 9 volt battery is in the works – the technique is called CN-NiNM, for cranial nerve non-invasive neuromodulation. The U.S. military is also interested in this application to use for traumatic brain injury, a large problem for our military personnel returning from duty in the Middle East. Commercial development of this stimulator device will be handled through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and NeuroHabilitation Corporation. If the studies continue to yield positive results, this group will apply to the FDA for approval of this device.

This therapy technique is non-invasive and the idea is so simple that the FDA may approve it in quick fashion if the research data holds up under scrutiny. In the meantime, in the interest of safety while we wait for further development of this tongue stimulator, I must remind you that licking a 9 volt battery will not achieve the same effects, and please stay away from licking the toads as well.

Wishing you well,



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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.

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