Globally the use of alternative therapies has been increasing in recent years for all medical issues. And people with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) are higher users than anyone. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the combination of products and therapies found outside the medical treatments taught in medical schools or found in traditional hospitals. CAM today is becoming more recognized by the medical community, and is now commonly used along with traditional healthcare.

Before implementing any form of CAM, it is essential to discuss it with your healthcare provider, particularly if you are on prescribed medications. A potential CAM patient needs to be well informed. If interested, you should learn how to evaluate the evidence, cost, risks, and availability. Evidence evaluation should include anecdotal reports, laboratory evidence, animal evidence, and experimental evidence in clinical trials.

Resources about CAM include public libraries, retail health stores, and the Internet. Web sites that provide useful information on CAM and MS include the CAM web site of the Rocky Mountain MS Center; Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medication in Neurological Disorders; Quack watch and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established five types of CAM therapy:

  • Biologically based therapies: diet, dietary supplements.
  • Mind-body medicine: meditation, hypnosis, spirituality.
  • Manipulative and body-based systems: massage, chiropractor medicine.
  • Alternative medical systems: traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda.
  • Energy therapies: magnets, therapeutic touch.

A review of the literature to evaluate the use of CAM in MS reported benefits of exercise, vitamins, verbal and mineral supplements, relaxation techniques, acupuncture and acupressure, cannabis, and massage. Symptoms for which CAM is widely used are pain management, fatigue, stress, and sleep disturbance.

There are some very respected and low-risk CAM strategies that can improve health and wellness. These include yoga, tai chi, massage, meditation, spirituality, music therapy, therapeutic and healing touch, and Reiki. While there are diets, herbs and supplements, vitamins and minerals, and non-biologic therapies that may help, anyone interested should be sure to utilize resources to investigate the evidence based on the above guidelines.

Using CAM can help people enhance lifestyles and improve quality of life if the benefit risk profile is acceptable and the cost will not be prohibitive. It is important to expand our thinking about health but also to use deliberate decision making about long-term consequences.

Complement your treatment regimen with healthy eating.