This website provides detailed information about many different forms of lifestyle and alternative medicine. This information is meant to assist people in evaluating these therapies. Several ideas and precautions must be kept in mind when reviewing this information:
1. The information on this website is not meant to “convert” anyone to use these therapies and should not be taken as a recommendation to use these therapies.
Definitive evidence about the safety and effectiveness of many lifestyle and unconventional therapies is not available. Thus, this website does not make recommendations. The information on this website should assist with decision-making. The use of these therapies should be discussed with a conventional health provider. In the end, individuals must decide for themselves about using these therapies and must assume the risks and responsibilities of pursuing specific approaches.
2. Be aware of when it is reasonable to use these therapies.
Lifestyle and unconventional therapies need to be considered thoughtfully. For mild symptoms, such as mild muscle stiffness or pain, unconventional or lifestyle therapies may be worth considering. On other hand, for treating severe symptoms or trying to slow down a disease process, these therapies should not be used exclusively.
3. Have a plan.
Several steps should be followed when considering any type of unconventional therapy:
a. Evaluate the reason(s) for wanting to use a therapy.
b. Obtain accurate information about effectiveness, safety, cost, and effort involved.
c. If a therapy is used, discuss it with your conventional health provider, monitor your response to it, and discontinue it when appropriate.
d. Use caution
4. Be aware that information about most forms of lifestyle and alternative medicine is incomplete.
For most forms of these therapies, there are limited studies of safety and effectiveness. Thus, it may only be possible to make “best guesses.” As more studies of lifestyle and alternative medicine are conducted, therapies that are now thought to be possibly effective or low risk may be found to be ineffective or unsafe.
5. Watch for warning signs of unreliable forms of unconventional and lifestyle medicine
Several features may indicate that a therapy is unreliable:
a. Heavy use of testimonials.
b. Extremely strong claims about effectiveness.
c. A single therapy is claimed to treat many medical conditions.
d. Inpatient, injection, or intravenous therapy.
e. Anti-conventional medicine or anti-science attitude.
6. Recognize that MS is characterized by excessive immune system activity.
Some lay books on unconventional medicine and MS state-erroneously-that MS is an immune disease and that, therefore, people with MS should take supplements to activate the immune system. This information is inaccurate and potentially dangerous. MS is indeed an immune disease. However, it is characterized by excessive immune system activity. Thus, therapies for MS should inhibit, not activate, the immune system.
7. Avoid misconceptions about dietary supplements.
Vendors of dietary supplements may make inaccurate claims about their products:
a. Supplements are sometimes claimed to be safe and effective if they are “natural.” Some natural compounds may be safe and effective. However, others, such as arsenic and poisonous mushrooms, are unsafe and of no benefit for any medical condition.
b. Some supplements are claimed to have beneficial effects and no side effects. Supplements, like conventional medications, are made up of chemical compounds that have the potential to produce beneficial as well as harmful effects.
c. More is not necessarily better. It is sometimes claimed that if a small dose of a supplement is beneficial, then a large dose is even more beneficial. This is not generally true. In fact, high doses may be more likely to produce adverse effects.
d. The use of supplements in combination with conventional medications has not been fully investigated. If supplements are taken in combination with conventional medications, it is important to recognize that the safety of these “combination therapies” is not known. Of note, there are some situations in which a combination therapy is less effective or more likely to produce side effects than a single-treatment approach.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Optimal Health with Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide to Integrating Lifestyle, Alternative, and Conventional Medicine. New York: Demos, 2014.
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos, 2007, pp. 22-28.