Understanding Multiple Sclerosis and the TCM View

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. This disease is twice as likely to occur in women and seen more often among persons living or from the northern hemisphere. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. Nationwide, there are an estimated 350,000 people diagnosed with MS. Worldwide, Multiple Sclerosis affects 2.5 million individuals. Seventy percent of people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis are able to live active and productive lives with a limited number of flare-ups.

The exact cause of MS is unknown in Western medicine. MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Other theories believe MS may be a result of a virus, nutritional deficiencies either from poor diet or poor absorption, environmental toxins, mercury toxicity, or food allergies which may include dairy and gluten. Further theories suggest that some people may have genetic predispositions to MS.

Multiple Sclerosis means “many scars”. These scars are a result of demyelination of the myelin sheaths that protect and insulate the nerve fibers surrounding the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. This scarring interferes with proper nerve transmission and distorts and interrupts nerve impulses to the brain. Symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the location of the scars. Symptoms may last only a few hours, or weeks or months and can become permanent. These lesions can partially heal leading to the characteristic phases of remission and relapse. Symptoms of MS may include numbness and heaviness of one leg or both, tingling, numbness or electrical sensations in the hands or legs, dizziness, blurred vision or double vision, headaches, muscular weakness, slurred speech, lack of coordination and balance, fatigue, and urinary dysfunction. Those with progressed MS can develop paralysis.

Diagnosing MS is not easy and may require months or even years of testing. Ninety percent of MS patients have plaques or lesions that are detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test can also evaluate the progression of the disease. Other tests may also be performed but only show abnormalities and do not necessarily diagnose the condition. These tests may include but are not limited to: lumbar puncture, tests on nerve conduction, and electroencephalogram (EEG).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer significant relief in reducing the symptoms and slowing down the progression of MS. Traditional Chinese Medicine understands MS to be a type of atrophy syndrome, meaning a disease that deteriorates the body. There are four main disease patterns that MS patients may fall into according to TCM. The first pattern is MS due to an external damp invasion. This dampness can be contracted when someone is continuously over exposed to damp conditions. The dampness obstructs the energy pathways of the body causing heaviness of the legs or hands, numbness, and tingling sensations. The second pattern is a result of improper diet including a diet high in greasy or fried foods, cold foods, and dairy products. TCM believes that these foods can weaken the body’s digestive energy leading to improper nutrient absorption, food allergies, and internal dampness. Internal dampness can lead to the same set of symptoms as described with the first pattern. The third pattern involves weakening of the energetics of the liver and kidneys. A person may weaken the energetics of these organs by having too much sex, drinking, smoking, and excessive stress, just to name a few. Symptoms associated with this pattern includes: dizziness, blurred vision, urgency or hesitancy of urination and extreme weakness of the legs. The fourth pattern involves trauma or shock, which can deplete the body of its natural energy, creating poor circulation of energy and blood throughout the body. This can manifest as symptoms such as weakness of the legs, dizziness, and vertigo.

Traditional Chinese Medicine treats MS patients through acupuncture, herbology, and massage. The sooner a person receives acupuncture, the better the results. Acupuncture works on the energy pathways of the body and is helpful in reducing symptoms and restoring balance. Herbology can also be an effective form of treatment. Herbal formulas are prepared according to the individual. Progressed forms of Multiple Sclerosis can be harder to treat. Periodic massages may be beneficial to promote circulation and energy flow throughout the body. Meditation can also be a helpful form of therapy and can be used to relax the mind.

Because MS affects individuals differently, treatment programs may vary from person to person. Some treatments may include dietary and nutritional counseling, detoxification therapies, and removal of mercury-containing dental fillings. Dietary recommendations include a low fat diet, decreasing dairy intake and greasy, fatty foods, alcohol, coffee, meat, sugar, and processed foods. Adding foods rich in folic acid and B vitamins are important in the maintenance of nerve health. Foods rich in essential fatty acids may also be beneficial in decreasing symptoms and flare-ups of MS. Flax seed and wheat germ oils have anti-inflammatory properties and can be beneficial for MS patients. It is important to exercise regularly to keep the muscles strong. Adequate sleep and rest are also very important as well as avoiding stressful situations. Diet, exercise and limiting stress are some of the most important ways to stay healthy and prevent disease.

There are many organizations that offer support groups and further information on Multiple Sclerosis. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a website and can be contacted at www.nmss.org.