1 / 9 Managing MS Naturally
Estimates are that at least half the people with multiple sclerosis (MS) use supplements, herbs, and other natural remedies to help manage their condition. If you’re consideringnatural remedies, especially herbs, talk with your doctor first. A handful of herbs may benefit MS, but hundreds more could be harmful or interfere with medication. If your doctor gives you the green light, consider adding these alternative therapies to your MS treatment plan.
2 / 9 Down Some Cranberry
Cranberry supplements may be a natural remedy to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), a common problem for women with MS. UTIs can worsen underlying neurological problems, says Allen Bowling, MD, PhD, physician associate at the Colorado Neurological Institute in Denver and clinical professor of neurology at the University of Colorado. If you have mild leg weakness, Dr. Bowling says, a UTI can push you over and trigger significant leg weakness. However, if you already have a UTI, cranberry won’t help. Make sure any active infection is promptly treated with an antibiotic, he adds.
3 / 9 Bone Up on Vitamin D
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and fight osteoporosis, a common MS complication. Most people with MS are vitamin D deficient, which should be corrected with oral supplements, says Mary Rensel, MD, a staff neurologist in neuroimmunology at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research in Ohio. As a natural remedy, vitamin D has benefits that go beyond your bones. In a study published in JAMA Neurology in March 2014, researchers found that among people with early-stage MS, those with higher blood levels of vitamin D had slower MS progressionduring 5 years of follow-up than those with low vitamin D levels.
4 / 9 Get on Pins and Needles
Acupuncture may be helpful for pain and is low risk, Bowling says. He had a word of caution for those managing MS though. Chinese herbal medicines are often provided to patients after a session. Many common Chinese herbs, like Asian ginseng or astragalus, can activate the immune system and make MS worse or interfere with disease-modifying medications. So it’s recommended that you steer clear of any herbal remedies after a
5 / 9 Chill Out
MS symptoms often get worse when you’re overheated and tend to improve with cooling. Simple strategies work, like drinking cold beverages and staying inside with the air conditioning on. Want to go one step further with this natural remedy? Consider wearing specially-designed cooling garments. According to Bowling’s research, cooling improves walking and vision and possibly improves thinking, strength, and fatigue. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America provides cooling vests to people who qualify for its program.
6 / 9 Consider Ginkgo Carefully
There’s evidence that the herbal remedy ginkgo biloba can help with fatigue, Bowling says. But be careful since ginkgo can affect other medications you may be taking. If you’re on blood thinners, for instance, ginkgo can thin your blood even more. Make sure you talk with your doctor and review your medications before deciding to use this natural remedy. Always stop taking ginkgo before having any surgery. Note that while people often take ginkgo biloba to improve cognitive performance, a study published in Neurology in September 2012 found that taking it twice a day didn’t help people with MS think more clearly.
7 / 9 Put Your Mind to It
“Meditation may help MS — fatigue, quality of life, and pain,” Dr. Rensel says. This mind-body therapy can help relieve stress, common among those with MS. Meditation involves using deep breathing exercises while focusing your mind on a word or phrase that helps you calm down. You can do this at home in a quiet room or consider joining a tai chi class. The ancient Chinese practice combines slow-flowing movement with meditation and deep breathing and may improve walking ability.
8 / 9 Get in Position
Yoga may have some beneficial effects on multiple MS symptoms, Bowling says. The symptom that has been the most studied is fatigue. Anecdotally, yoga helps with stability and muscle stiffness. However, avoid hot yoga or any yoga position that puts you at risk for falling. Both yoga and tai chi are natural remedies that can be modified for people with disabilities.
9 / 9 Look at Lifestyle
Bowling says it’s understandable that people with MS would look to alternative medicine since conventional medicine doesn’t have a cure or perfectly effective drugs to treat symptoms. He urged patients to look at their daily habits, too, since lifestyle can affect MS. Eat healthy, don’t smoke, and drink only in moderation. Certainly don’t abandon conventional MS treatment for alternative therapies, even if they’re natural remedies. “Thoughtfully blend what may be helpful and low risk with medication,” Bowling advises.