o Maximize Your Results: Suggestions for MS Patients


Suggestions for MS Patients at the ITM Clinics

by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

Natural medicine, and Chinese medicine in particular, is a fully participatory activity.  That is, there is the work of the practitioner in providing a treatment, but there is also the active involvement of the person receiving treatments.  Below are some of the suggestions that can be made to enhance outcomes by more comprehensive participation.

1. Acupuncture. 

In the practice of acupuncture, it is up to the practitioner to select a treatment strategy (points to be treated and technique of locating points, inserting the needles, and adjusting them after insertion).  The person receiving acupuncture can help make sure that the acupuncture treatment is having the desired effect. 

First, there is a response to needling which is called getting qi (qi is pronounced “chee” and refers, in this case, to the movement of energy through the acupuncture meridians—channels of the energy flow that mainly exist close to the skin).  To a certain extent, this is something that the practitioner can detect (there is often a slight movement of the needle, as if being pulled into the point), but, as importantly, it is something that the individual being needled can detect and report.  The qi reaction may differ for the different points, and may differ from one day to the next or even from one time of day to another.  It is described variously, as warmth, distended feeling, numbness, and, in some cases, propagation of the feeling from the point being needled along the body surface to another point or area.  The sensation should not be pain, though it may initially feel uncomfortable because of its unfamiliararity. According to traditional doctors, getting good results is dependent on getting qi.  Failure to get qi can be because the needle missed its mark (either in location or depth of insertion), because the manipulation of the needle (pulling, pushing, twirling, agitating) was not adequate to attain the response, or because the flow of qi through the meridian at the particular time of day is insufficient (in which case, another meridian may need to be treated).

Let your acupuncturist know if you are getting the qi reaction.  The acupuncturist should, especially with scalp acupuncture treatments, restimulate the needles at intervals of 5–15 minutes, in order to restore the qi sensation during the period of needle retention.

In the case of scalp acupuncture, if you have muscular disabilities, you should attempt to move the affected part immediately after needle stimulation.  If movement is not possible, the acupuncturist may help you make passive movements.  If the affected part is not subject to voluntary movement (e.g., retina, bladder, etc.), then one should focus one’s attention on the part being treated and/or make movements of nearby muscles (e.g., back or legs for bladder; eyes for retina).

In China, patients with serious illnesses are often treated with an intensive course of acupuncture.  As an example, they might receive acupuncture once each day for ten consecutive treatments, followed by once every other day for ten treatments, followed, if necessary, by another ten treatments at the rate of 2–3 per week.  Thus, one might receive 30 treatments in a two month period.  In the U.S., it is more common for people to come for treatments once per week, but they might miss one treatment per month, on average, so that in a two month period they receive only 6–7 treatments, with an extended interval between treatments.  If possible, get more frequent treatments, at least during the first three months of therapy and at any time when the disease is flaring up or seems to be progressing to a more serious condition.


2. Herbs

Herbal therapies can have a powerful impact on physiological functions, including the full spectrum of immune responses.  In many instances, they can substitute for drugs, providing a more healthful alternative.  Unlike drugs, which concentrate a small amount of powerful chemicals into a tiny pill or injection, herbs are crude materials, mainly comprised of mild biochemicals that cannot be concentrated into a small volume.  Therefore, the amount of herbal material that may need to be ingested could be quite high.

In China, persons with MS or similar diseases often drink a decoction (tea made by boiling herbs for about an hour) made with about 1/4–1/3 of a pound of dried herbs.  When using pills, it is common for the Chinese to administer large honey-bound pills (boluses) that have a weight of 6–9 grams: they are not swallowed whole, but chewed.  Sometimes, there is a combination of pills and teas used in the treatment.  In the U.S., most patients dislike preparing and drinking the teas or chewing up huge pills. Therefore, they are provided with dried teas (in the form of powders or granules that are swallowed with water) or smooth tablets (typically 700 mg/tablet).  To get a dosage equivalent to what is used in China, one would consume about three tablespoons of the dried teas or 18–24 tablets of ground herbs (or a combination of the two materials) each day.  The amount of herbs that is suitable for you is the amount that produces the reasonably expected results.  This may be less or more than the dosage that is most often used in China.  Typically, herbs will be consumed in these seemingly large dosages for at least two to three months, and then followed up with a somewhat smaller dosage (usually relying on pills only) for up to two years (longer if needed to keep symptoms under control). 

It is not uncommon for American patients to complain of digestive system reactions to herbs.  This might be alleviated by changing the time of taking herbs in relation to meals, by taking digestive enzymes or other digestive aids, by taking a smaller dose of herbs more frequently, by adjusting the diet, or by changing the herbal formulation.  The precise nature and timing of any apparent adverse reaction to herbs should be reported to the prescriber so that appropriate adjustments can be made.  If an obvious allergic reaction occurs (most often this will be a skin rash), discontinue use of the herbs at once.

When herbs are used to substitute for drug therapies, be careful about stopping use of any drug abruptly.  Some drugs should be withdrawn slowly (especially corticosteroids), while others should be stopped rather than reduced in dosage (sometimes the case with antibiotics).  Check with your doctor.

3. Nutritional supplements

Deficiencies in several nutrients have been suggested to affect MS, including antioxidants (several vitamins, minerals, and amino acids), B-vitamins (associated with nerve functions), and essential fatty acids (which may reduce autoimmune responses).  Further, absorption of nutrients may be reduced in persons who have chronic or advanced disease.  Therefore, supplements are frequently recommended.

Some of the important nutrients take up a substantial volume, including calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, flavonoids, essential fatty acids, and amino acids.  Therefore, as is the case with the herb therapies, the amount of tablets or capsules to be consumed may seem rather large.  Some items, such as amino acids or lecithin, might be given in bulk form rather than capsules or tablets so as to provide adequate dosage. 

Nutritional substances often have their best effects if taken along with a nutritious diet: the foods will provide cofactors that could aid in the absorption and utilization of the nutrients.  Unlike herbs, nutritional supplements rarely cause adverse reactions.  However, if you have received high dosage nutritional supplements by prescription, be careful about adding any other supplements, to avoid the possibility of elevation to potentially harmful levels.

Some nutrients are so poorly absorbed or distributed that they are better administered by injection.  For example, vitamin B12 may have both nutritional and pharmacological action if present in high enough dosage, but the amount absorbed orally may be very low.  Injections of up to 1–2 mg at a time can be given, and these can be repeated weekly (in rare cases, even more often).  Magnesium may benefit problems of pain, numbness, and muscle spasm if injected close to the area that is affected.

4. Life Style

Staying active, physically and mentally, is important to regaining and maintaining health.  Habits that impair physical or mental functions, including smoking, drinking, not getting enough sleep, lack of effective communication with others, and not having pleasant surroundings, make it more difficult to attain good health.  It has been shown that certain physical activities, such as Tai Chi exercises, can enhance balance, strength, and emotional stability.  Range-of-motion swim exercises and yoga are likely to be helpful in maintaining nervous system function and muscular strength without spasm.  Persons who have successfully dealt with MS have often told their story in articles and books; while their particular method might not apply to you, they may offer some guidance in attitude, habits, and opportunities to pursue.

November 1996