By Wei Liu TCMD MPH, LAC, and ChengZhen Gong PhD., MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, auto-immune disease that destroys the myelin sheath around nerve cells, primarily attacking cells of the brain and spinal cord. Statistics indicate that this debilitating disease is on the rise, but it is possible that the higher numbers reflect an increased ability to diagnose MS, rather than an actual higher disease rate.
Although more cases of MS are being diagnosed, early signs such as double vision, fatigue and muscle weakness are vague, and could be symptoms of a number of diseases. Unfortunately, even when MS is diagnosed, there is no cure for it. A number of drugs are being used to control or minimize symptoms, but most are not consistently effective. While conventional Western medicine continues to search for ways to diagnose and treat MS, Chinese medicine can be extremely useful as an alternative method for managing symptoms. In my experience, traditional Chinese medicine can effectively reduce flare-ups, reduce disease progression, and improve quality of life for MS sufferers.
Scientists generally see MS as an auto-immune process, but the triggering mechanisms are unclear. Since MS tends to run in families, it seems there is either a genetic tendency to develop the disease, or a genetic predisposition to be susceptible to the triggering mechanisms that result in the development of MS. People in northern latitudes of Europe and North America are more often affected than those in southern areas, and the disease is almost unheard of in the tropics. Multiple sclerosis is twice as common in women as men, and it has been suggested that hormonal factors predispose women to develop MS.
In this article I present a few of the cases I have seen in my clinic, and discuss the Chinese medicine approach to these cases. My belief that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective modalities to control the progress and reduce the discomfort of MS is based on the positive results I have experienced with the thirty-plus cases I have seen in recent years.
Stephanies progressively worsening MS started eight years ago. The initial numbness and weakness of her arms developed into an inability to type letters on a computer keyboard. Her eyes were affected, making the computer keys look as if they were moving around constantly. She had some trouble pronouncing words clearly, and sometimes wrote strange symbols when she meant to write letters or numbers. She couldnt concentrate on more than one thing at a time, and became extremely agitated if her train of thought was interrupted. Fortunately, Stephanie had no pain, but she frequently felt chest congestion and heaviness of the body. Her doctor prescribed the drugs ACTH and Cyclospasmol to control her symptoms, but they were only effective for a short while.
When Stephanie came to me, I evaluated her by taking her history and then looking at her tongue and checking her pulse. Tongue and pulse signs are very important diagnostic tools in Chinese medicine. Her pulse was slippery and rapid, and her tongue was red with a yellow-slimy coating. In traditional Chinese medicine, these signs were classified as a pattern of Phlegm/Dampness Blocking the Meridians. Chinese herbs that open the meridians and counteract damp conditions are commonly used for this pattern. After a course of acupuncture treatments with Chinese herbs Stephanie noticed that she types better, and her coordination is improved. She feels that she handles her job better, now, and is happy that she can continue to work.
Steven is a truck driver from northern Minnesota. Six years ago, he began to experience numbness in his arms, hand and leg weakness, and muscle spasms. Loss of coordination and balance, dizziness and fatigue followed. He had localized pain in his left shoulder blade that was sharp and fixed. He was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. His regular physician prescribed a variety of medications such as oral corticosteroids and interferon, and also suggested that he see an acupuncturist for his pain. When I looked at his tongue, it was purple. In traditional Chinese medicine, his case falls into the category of Blood Stasis in the Meridians. I prescribed a Chinese herbal formula, StagnationEASE (Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang), and began giving him two acupuncture treatments per week. After a few weeks of treatments, he no longer woke up at night with muscle spasms and pain. Because he can rest well and sleep through the night, Steven feels that he has benefited from Chinese medicine.
Elizabeth had severe and constant numbness on the right side of her body, and difficulties with sight and hearing on that side. She was frustrated by her inability to do daily life tasks, and found it difficult to stand for any period of time or to walk. She came to my clinic in a wheelchair, complaining of leg pain, ankle and back pain. She also experienced slurred speech, blurred and diminished vision, dizziness, ear ringing, forgetfulness, and confusion. She had taken amitriptyline and lorazepam for one year, then switched to Copaxone with no relief of symptoms. When she came to my clinic, her tongue was red and her pulse was thin and rapid. This is a very typical pattern of Kidney/Liver Deficiency in traditional Chinese medicine, and the treatment goal is to nourish her Kidneys and Liver with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. A time-tested formula, Kidney Liver Tonic (Qi Ju Di Huang Wan), was suggested to her for long-term use. One day, she came to my clinic and told me, "I can walk all the way down the hallway in my apartment by myself now, and I couldnt do that before."