MS: The Alternative Route
by Eve Morgan
“What we see is that patients do not usually use alternative treatments for treating symptoms, but as a preventative and strengthening element.”
This was the statement from Lasse Skovgaard of the Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society following a Nordic survey conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The survey, completed in April this year, was the first to map the use of alternative treatment by MS patients; its study group consisted of 3,800 patients across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. The survey found that patients do not use alternative therapies to treat their symptoms but more to facilitate an easier path through life. The National Institutes of Health confirm that at least one third of MS patients in this country also take this route.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – A Dietary Supplement
Omega-3 fatty acids are three fats: EPA, ALA and DHA. ALA comes from oils in plants such as flaxseed and the others can be found in the oils from fish such as salmon. There have been many studies into the effects of these fatty acids on the immune system but much less research regarding their use by MS patients. The small sample studies that have taken place have been less than conclusive. In Norway a team at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, under the leadership of Øivind Torkildsen, M.D., Ph.D., used a group of 92 patients in their study. They gave 42 of the patients omega-3 fatty acids, and the other 42 a placebo, daily. After a period of six months all of the patients were all also given interferon beta-1 three times per week for another 18 months. At the end of the study the research team stated that; “The results from this study did not show any beneficial effects of ω-3 [omega-3] fatty acid supplementation on disease activity in multiple sclerosis as a monotherapy or in combination with interferon beta.” These findings were partially contradicted by another study that observed the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids on a group of 312 patients over a two-year period. In those patients given 10 grams of fish oil per day the incidence of relapse and progression of disability were less than in those given a placebo, although not to a statistically significant level. The overall finding was that trends favored the group that received the fish oil. In their public access manuscript entitled “Complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of multiple sclerosis” the National Institutes of Health advise that there is evidence to suggest the benefits of the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3 fatty acids in MS therapy but that the treatment has not been vigorously investigated.
Aromatherapy to Ease the Pain
Many MS patients find it difficult to manage pain in conjunction with the symptoms of the decease. The chronic pain can often not be completely relieved so any means of helping to manage it can be a blessing. The essential oils of aromatherapy are said to have properties including relaxation, pain management, and the healing of wounds, as outlined by Licensed Prescriptions. They state that; “The practice of aromatherapy today centers on the use of essential oils which come from plants. The oils are extracted from the leaves or flowers by distillation. These oils are then used to benefit the health and well-being of the ‘whole person’ and can be used to help prevent and treat minor medical conditions as well as being an effective tool for relaxation and stress relief“. There has been scant research into the benefits of aromatherapy in relation to the treatment of pain from MS but oils such as roman chamomile, lavender, and white birch are said to have analgesic properties. The MS Trust in the United Kingdom states that “Aromatherapy will not cure the problem or get rid of the pain. However, it may help improve some of the effects of the pain such as sleep disturbance, joint and muscle mobility, whilst helping you to relax and feel better. Achieving one or more of these things can help people to cope better with pain on a day to day basis”.
The Future of the Alternatives
There is nothing to suggest that there will be any reduction in the numbers of MS patients looking towards alternative solutions to supplement traditional treatments. The National Institutes of Health report that the effectiveness of any therapy can take several years to investigate. They continue to suggest that over the coming five years there is likely to be increased investigation into alternative therapies to assist in informing patients and health care professionals.