Homeopathy and the Management of Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple Sclerosis is the commonest disabling neurological disorder amongst young people in the industrialised world. The basic problem in someone affected with Multiple Sclerosis is their liability to develop patches of inflammation in more or less any area of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The inflammation is primarily of the fatty coverings around the conductive nerve tissue, known as myelin sheaths which are rather like the insulation on a wire. The inflammation, arising for mostly unknown reasons, destroys the myelin covering and inhibits nerve conduction in a process known as demyelination. Depending on the part of the nervous system affected, almost any motor or sensory function of the body can be affected to many different degrees.

How does Multiple Sclerosis affect the sufferer?

On the whole once the demyelination resolves, remyelination (repair of the sheaths) occurs to a greater or lesser degree. The extent of the nerve recovery is generally reflected in a greater or lesser degree of functional recovery for the patient. So Multiple Sclerosis progresses usually as a stepwise so called relapsing/remitting condition, with periods of being well alternating with periods of variable disability. Usually the functional recovery after a relapse is not quite back to the original level and so many relatively small bodily malfunctions can add up to produce very marked disability over the course of a number of years and a number of relapses.

Multiple Sclerosis can give rise to so many different symptoms. For example, a very frequent first symptom is inflammation of the optic nerve often leading to a painful blindness which recovers over the course of a few weeks. This is sometimes associated with double-vision or bouts of severe dizziness and collapse. Other frequent ways of presentation are with patches of numbness and weakness of one side of the body or one limb. The bowel and bladder may be affected to any degree, with either extreme difficulty with passing urine and constipation, or with loss of control and incontinence. Painful spasms of muscle groups, particularly in the legs are quite frequent later in the condition, sometimes being so violent as to jerk the sufferer out of bed or from the chair. These are an especially distressing feature as muscle weakness and stiffness progress.

What is the cause of Multiple Sclerosis?

No single agent has been found responsible for the triggering of Multiple Sclerosis in someone who is genetically susceptible. Theories of causation abound, but none have stood up to prolonged analysis. There are a few tantalising hints, such as the fact that if you live the years of your life from five years to fifteen years between the fortieth and sixtieth degrees of latitude of either hemisphere then your risk of developing the disorder is greater. This risk remains with you life-long, even if you migrate to other latitudes. This fact has suggested the idea of an infectious agent such as a virus being acquired while living in these areas. There is though, no suggestion at all that Multiple Sclerosis is in anyway a transmissible condition.

How is Multiple Sclerosis usually managed?

A large amount of research continues to be done on drug treatments to try and help slow the course of the illness down. Nothing has been found which reliably can achieve a slowing of the process or even a halt in its course, although there have been some moderately encouraging results with the drug Beta-Interferon in selected sufferers. The usual management of a relapse of symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis is with high dose corticosteroids. On average, these shorten the duration of a typical relapse and allow faster return to more normal functioning, but they have no impact on the long term course of the illness. They are very useful in helping rapid return to normal life in a patient with a very definite acute relapse. There are many people though, who have a chronic, slowly progressive form of the condition and it is not practical, safe or particularly effective to use steroids. Rehabilitation of function with the help of physiotherapy and occupational therapy often contributes most to well-being. The rest of conventional management relies upon symptom control with various drugs used to help bladder and bowel function and for spasm control.

How can Homoeopathy help?

There is no evidence to show that homoeopathy can prevent the condition progressing, but there is a feeling amongst those of us who treat a lot of people with multiple sclerosis that the frequency of relapse is probably cut down at least in some patients. As a complementary treatment in addition to conventional drugs, homoeopathy also particularly good at helping some of the complications of the condition.

As a general rule, if a clear constitutional prescription can be found then the outlook is probably better in the long run. I have found it particularly helpful if the onset of first symptoms, or the onset of symptoms of a particular relapse, are linked in some way to some precipitating event in the patient's life or mind. For example, onset of arm weakness and numbness soon after the stressful, unhappy break-up of a love affair might well be helped by the remedy Ignatia (ailments from grief and disappointed love). Another useful pointer in aetiology is if symptoms came on following head injury or trauma to the spinal cord. Remedies which might be considered here are Natrum sulphuricum (almost specific for ailments since head injury), Arnica (the great post traumatic remedy) or Hypericum (the 'arnica of the nerves').

Another feature to take into account when trying to assess the likelihood of helping someone with symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis is the length of time the symptom has been present and unchanging - it is unlikely to be amenable to change if it has been present and unaltered for more than a year. The specifically homoeopathic concept of the rareness, strangeness or peculiarity of a particular symptom is important too. To be able to assess this, it is important to be aware of the usual reactions of the body in Multiple Sclerosis. An example here is that almost everyone with Multiple Sclerosis feels worse in the heat (it slows nerve conduction still further) with weakness markedly worsening, so that for example people can get into a hot bath but not out of it. If you meet someone with Multiple Sclerosis who actually feels better in the heat, this would be called a rare, strange or peculiar symptom and is of great value in prescribing.

Along with the constitutional remedy, what else is important? Well, it seems to be especially helpful to manage any acute illness, such as a cold, 'flu or other viral condition quickly with homoeopathy in someone with Multiple Sclerosis. It is characteristic for relapses to occur following viral illness and these should be preventable with appropriate homoeopathy. The usual 'flu and cold remedies will come in here such as Aconite at the beginning of any sudden illness, remedies like Allium cepa or Euphrasia for colds and Gelsemium or Eupatorium in the case of 'flu (these of course are just some examples - there are many others).

Specific remedies for particular symptoms.

Bladder symptoms and urinary retention is often helped by Causticum in a 6c or 30c potency. Causticum is also helpful for involuntary urination and in fact any bladder symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis in my experience can often be helped with this remedy. Some people have to perform self-catheterisation to pass urine and in this situation a dose of Staphysagria 6c daily or with each catheterisation can aid expulsion of urine and make it a more comfortable experience.

Bowel dysfunction is usually constipation and the range of remedies which can be effective here include the usual ones such as Opium, Alumina, Silica, Nux vomica and Sulphur.

Eye symptoms. Phosphorus appears to be specific for the peculiar kind of optic nerve inflammation found in Multiple Sclerosis and a reasonable prescription for optic neuritis would be Phosphorus 30c every day until resolution begins. I have sometimes found that combining this with Hypericum seems effective. The double vision which sometimes occurs can be helped with Gelsemium.

Cramps and Spasms. The great cramp remedy upon which many people with Multiple Sclerosis rely is Cuprum metallicum, often taken as a 30C single dose every night. This appears to prevent the great discomfort that some people experience in the early hours of the morning. Some patients, particularly very chilly, anxious individuals woken around 2.00am may respond better to Cuprum arsenicosum, taken in a similar regime. These cuprum salts sometimes help with the spasms of Multiple Sclerosis. Other remedies which can be tried include Nux vomica and Ignatia both of which contain the chemical Strychnine, which causes spasms in poisonous doses and so homeopathically plants containing it can be very useful in this situation. The pure chemical itself is available as a remedy, Strychninum and 30c of this is successful on occasion. The main role of these agents is to allow cutting down of the conventional anti-spasmodic drugs which have side-effects, mostly of muscle weakness and bowel dysfunction.

Sensory symptoms. Tingling and numbness of the hands and feet are quite common in Multiple Sclerosis. I have found that this neuropathy can be helped with homoeopathy and in particular the remedy Secale appears to be useful. Again a regular daily dose of 30c is reasonable. Secale also sometimes helps regulate bladder function in those who never feel they are quite emptying the bladder.

Other supportive treatment. Patients who are having a course of steroid, or who have become dependent on a daily dose of steroid can sometimes be helped with side-effects or to get down to a lower dose of steroid with a homoeopathic potency of the steroid Prednisolone. I often use 30c once a day.

All in all then, homoeopathy has much to offer the sufferer of Multiple Sclerosis. Although we would never claim to be able to cure this common extremely distressing condition, there is much that can be done to make life a little easier for sufferers with the positive effects of the remedies on symptoms and also with the benefits of reducing conventional agents with their attendant side-effects.

I should add that other complementary modalities of treatment have a big role in Multiple Sclerosis management and ideally should be integrated with the conventional and homoeopathic approaches with an individualised treatment regime for every sufferer. I am thinking particularly of acupuncture, often very helpful for helping spasm and the peripheral neuropathic symptoms and also dietary regimes, which again some people find helpful and which are important in long term management. These, though are beyond the scope of this article.


By Tom Whitmarsh

Share this with your friends