Traditional Chinese Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis

Chinese Medicine / Female Health / Male Health / Multiple Sclerosis

It was following my own diagnosis with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis in 1998 and the seemingly miraculous recovery that followed, that my vocation to the oriental healing arts was formed. This is a modified version of the article I wrote for the MS Society in April 2001. In this updated version I have now included some recent scientific research evidence, which offers support to ancient Traditional Chinese Medical approaches to the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. Seven years after my own diagnosis I remain symptom free.

As Chinese Medicine has an holistic approach, TCM practitioners will look at the overall health condition of the patient to determine which pattern of energetic disharmony is presented before determining the treatment approach. Therefore two patients with MS will often have different presentations of the illness and consequently differing treatment approaches.

Chinese Medicine generally considers Multiple Sclerosis as a type of Atrophy Syndrome that is typically characterised by a general weakness of the body with particular emphasis on the Functional Energetic Deficiency of the Liver and Kidneys.

Clinical manifestations of Liver Blood Deficiency are: Muscular weakness in the arms and legs, dizziness, vertigo, numbness of the limbs, pale complexion, insomnia with dream disturbed sleep, muscle cramps and vision problems.

Clinical manifestations of Kidney Deficiency are: Weakness in the back and knees, lower back ache, poor memory, urination problems, cold limbs and insomnia.

In addition to Liver Blood and Kidney Deficiency, MS is often characterised in Chinese medical terms as Damp Invasion of the Spleen and meridians. This represents a malfunction of the digestive system.

Clinical manifestations of Spleen Dampness are: Numbness and tingling sensations, feeling of heaviness in the limbs, fatigue, bloating in the abdomen.

Dampness and the Environment
Dampness is an important factor in Multiple Sclerosis. External Cold and Dampness, or Cold Dampness found in the environment, invades the “channels” particularly in the legs and arms and causes, among other things, fatigue, numbness, tingling and coldness in the limbs. This External Dampness is usually contracted by living in damp places and being frequently exposed to damp weather conditions. It can readily be observed that MS has a far greater prevalence in countries where climates have a propensity to be cold, damp and wet. It is therefore advisable that MS sufferers should where possible avoid over exposure to damp environmental conditions.

In northern Europe, continental North America, and Australasia, about one of every 1000 citizens suffers from multiple sclerosis, whereas in the Arabian peninsula, Asia, and continental South America, the frequency is much lower. In Sub-Saharan Africa, MS is extremely rare. With important exceptions, there is a North-South gradient in the Northern hemisphere and a South-North gradient in the Southern hemisphere, with very low frequencies near the equator.

According to Chinese medicine people living in Damp climates should try avoid over consumption of foods that are considered Damp, which usually means high in saturated fats. Unfortunately it is often also the case that within these countries, consumption of Damp greasy and dairy foods are a regular part of daily food intake, ultimately leading to an even greater prevalence of Damp conditions such as MS. This leads us to our next consideration – diet.

In Chinese Medicine diet plays a major role in the cause and therefore the treatment of MS. In the context of a Cold Damp climate, excessive consumption of greasy, fried or cold foods (from the fridge) impairs Spleen (digestive) function and leads to the formation of Internal Dampness – a thin watery internal mucous and ultimately Phlegm inhibiting digestive function and impairing the transmission of essential life energy or Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) throughout the entire body. Normally it is advised that all foods should be at room temperature or warmer. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, butter, chocolate and ice cream are primary causes of Damp conditions in Western countries (other conditions apart from MS categorised as Damp include coronary heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis). This Damp factor also explains the prevalence of chronic sinusitis in MS sufferers.

Chinese dietary advice will therefore encourage the elimination of Damp causing foods with an increased intake of “Drying” foods to counteract long standing consumption of such Damp foods. Dry foods include; rye, celery, lettuce, scallion, alfalfa, turnips, white pepper, raw honey and corn.

The intake of highly sweet and other Damp forming foods needs to eliminated or at the very least limited; these include red meats, eggs, hydrogenated margarines, oily nuts and seeds. However it is particularly the over consumption of dairy, eggs and red meat that causes the thickest Damp formations. Other contributors to Dampness include:

  • food that is refined or highly processed (e.g. sugar)
  • late night eating (all meals should where possible be taken before 6pm)
  • overeatingLaboratory Study Shows Cholesterol Drugs (Statins) May Regulate Immune Response In People With MS
    October 8, 2002
    Details:Oral drugs used to lower cholesterol, called statins, were shown in test tubes to inhibit immune responses of cells taken from individuals with MS. This study was previously reported by Dr. Oliver Neuhaus (Karl-Franzens-Universitat, Graz, Austria) and colleagues at the April 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, and has now been published in the October 8, 2002 issue of Neurology. Clinical trials will be needed to determine whether these drugs can safely treat the immune attack in people with MS.Stress/Shock
    Shock in Chinese Medical terms can cause in impairment of Heart and Spleen (digestive) function and can also rapidly impair Kidney function. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the 20th turn of the century MS in the West was typically associated with the sudden death of a loved one and was often termed “Grieving disease”. The Spleen influences the muscles, so this depletion deprives the muscles of nourishment. As the Heart controls circulation of Blood so it leads to poor circulation to the limbs. Both these factors may cause weakness of the legs, dizziness and vertigo. It is therefore advisable for MS sufferers to avoid stressful situations and to take steps to enable the individual to cope better with any unavoidable stresses.For patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), stressful life events seem to make their symptoms worse, finds a study in this week’s British Medical Journal (2003; 327: 646).
    September 20, 2003

    Dutch researchers followed 73 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. They found during periods of stress patients were twice as likely to develop new symptoms, or a more severe form of their existing symptoms. The reason for the apparent link is unclear, although it is possible that stress triggers the release of hormones that affect the immune system.The finding suggests that giving people with MS coaching on how to deal with stress may help to delay the development of symptoms.Researcher Dr Rogier Hintzen, a neurologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said: ‘The knowledge that stressful events are associated with disease activity adds important information to the limited insight that patients and their caregivers have on this unpredictable disease.’

    As part of Chinese Medicine therapy it is encouraged that existing stress factors should be reduced or eliminated wherever possible. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are Chinese exercise and breathing regimes, similar to Yoga, that perfectly supplement therapy and will enable the individual to cope more favourably with life’s stresses. Gentle exercise such as that provided by Tai Chi is also essential in eliminating Dampness and energising the limbs. However, excessive exercise to exhaustion should be avoided as this can have a negative impact on Kidney and Liver function and can therefore further exacerbate the condition.

    PORTLAND, Ore. — Just six months of yoga significantly reduces fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis says a new Oregon Health & Science University study.
    June 8, 2004
    The study, published June 8 in the journal Neurology, found that yoga is as good as a traditional aerobic exercise program in improving measures of fatigue, a common and potentially disabling symptom of MS. It was the first randomized, controlled trial of yoga in people with MS.

    The MS study was not designed to determine the impact of yoga on the disease itself, said the study’s lead author, Barry Oken, M.D., professor of neurology and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. Rather, it was intended to determine the effect of yoga and aerobic exercise on cognitive function, fatigue, mood and quality of life among people with MS.

    ‘There are some claims out there that yoga helps MS itself, that it can decrease the number of lesions’ in the brain caused by MS, said Oken, director of the Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders (ORCCAMIND) at OHSU. ‘I’m not sure that that’s not the case, because stress may have an impact on MS. But that was not what we were trying to show.’

    Study co-author Dennis Bourdette, M.D., professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Oregon, said yoga was studied because many people with MS already are using it and reporting benefits.

    Chinese Medicine can offer considerable help in alleviating the symptoms and slowing the progress of MS. Acupuncture can help considerably in eliminating the feeling of heaviness and fatigue, reducing numbness, tingling and coldness of the limbs, improving bladder function, improving memory, reducing dizziness and vertigo as well as other ancillary symptoms.

    The sooner treatment of MS is started the better the long term prognosis. There is extensive clinical evidence that if TCM treatment is started at the very early stages of MS, the symptoms can be dramatically reduced and progression of the disease radically protracted or halted indefinitely.

    It is vitally important that the individual takes direct action in changing lifestyle by taking more rest, adjusting diet and reducing stress factors. Initially acupuncture treatment should be carried out at least twice a week generally for about one month. After this treatment can be spread out to once a week and then once a fortnight. If good results are obtained the individual should expect to be treated once a month thereafter.

    Neurology 1999; 52:A550 Wang Y, Hashimoto S, Ramsum D et al.  A pilot study of the use of alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis patients with particular focus on acupuncture.
    A 1999 survey evaluated acupuncture use in 217 people with MS in British Colombia.  The preliminary results indicate that approximately two-thirds reported beneficial effects.  Many symptoms were improved, including pain, spasticity, bowel and bladder difficulties, tingling, weakness, walking difficulties, incoordination and sleep disorders.
    * Allen C. Bowling, M.D. Ph.D.

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