While no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) is currently available, treatment options have improved in recent decades. Even so, some people with MS look for alternative or additional treatments beyond pharmaceuticals.
People take this approach for several reasons, including the following:
- They’re tired of side effects from disease-modifying therapies or symptom-reducing medications.
- They’re trying to lower their medical expenses.
- They’re frustrated with the results from conventional therapies.
- They prefer holistic healthcare.
- They hope that natural remedies will improve their overall health.
When natural remedies are used in addition to conventional treatments, they’re called complementary therapies. They’re called alternative therapies when they’re used instead of conventional treatments.
According to the National Institutes of Health, these therapies include:
- natural products, such as herbs, probiotics, vitamins, and minerals
- mind and body practices or manipulations, such as meditation, yoga, chiropractic, osteopathic manipulations, acupuncture, tai chi, and hypnotherapy
- traditional healing, including Chinese medicine and Ayurveda
According to a study in the journal Neurology, 33 to 80 percent of people with MS use complementary or alternative therapies.
Do natural remedies work?
If you choose to use natural remedies, it’s important to be aware of their limitations and risks.
No treatment of any kind can cure MS. Unlike disease-modifying treatments prescribed by your doctor, natural treatments aren’t proven to:
- reduce MS relapse rates
- delay irreversible neurological damage
- slow disease progression
- improve MRI markers of disease activity
It’s difficult to judge the effectiveness and safety of natural remedies. Large-scale clinical trials have proven the treatment value of disease-modifying therapies. Most natural remedies haven’t been rigorously studied in the same way. Although research on natural remedies is increasing, few of them have been well-studied.
The pros and cons of natural remedies
A paper in the Expert Review of Clinical Immunology points out that alternative and complementary therapies can benefit individuals, even when scientific evidence is lacking. For example, along with conventional disease-modifying treatments the authors recommend:
- a low-fat diet
- supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D
- the use of mind and body techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and prayer
The American Academy of Neurology’s 2014 guidelines on complementary and alternative medicine have more information about how well those treatments work. Some natural remedies, such as exercise, are becoming a mainstream part of comprehensive care.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that natural doesn’t necessarily mean free of risks. Treatments promoted as natural aren’t necessarily healthy or effective. For example, supplements aren’t FDA-regulated for health or safety. Some natural treatments may also have unexpected effects on your immune system. They may also interact with your current medications. The dose of the supplement can also affect your reaction, and some aren’t labeled clearly or consistently. It’s important to always talk to your doctor before trying a new natural remedy.
Some natural remedies can be appropriate and helpful when used alongside disease-modifying treatments. If you choose to avoid using disease-modifying therapies, you could be putting your long-term health at risk.
Disease-modifying therapies are the only treatments proven to delay the onset of progressive MS and reduce relapses. Early and ongoing treatment with conventional therapies is the proven path to those benefits.
If you want to use natural remedies, seek out a doctor who’s open-minded about using them along with disease-modifying therapy. This will help you get advice that leads to safe, effective, and empowering treatment.