Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Myasthenia Gravis (MG)
What is myasthenia gravis?
Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a rare, lifelong autoimmune disease that involves disruption of normal communication between nerves and muscles. Nerves release a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, that binds to muscle receptor sites at the neuromuscular junction of skeletal muscles. When working properly, this signals the muscles to contract. MG causes the immune system to create antibodies that block these receptor sites, resulting in communication disruption between the nerves and muscles. As fewer nerve signals are received by the muscles, muscle fatigue and weakness occur. Voluntary muscles of the body, especially the mouth, eyes, throat and limbs, are typically affected by MG.
Alternative and complementary treatment options
In addition to conventional treatment options, several alternative and complementary treatments may also ease symptoms associated with MG. They include the following:
- Vitamins and supplements
Huperzine A (a chemical derived from Chinese club moss) is a supplement commonly used to treat MG. This chemical increases the body’s production of acetylcholine, which is the neurotransmitter impacted by MG. It is important to note huperzine A should only be used short-term; it can exacerbate heart issues, seizure disorders, gastrointestinal blockage, stomach ulcers, lung conditions, and urinary tract blockages. Possible side effects include blurred vision, dry mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and sweating.
- Massive-dose vitamin D
Limited research has been published concerning massive-dose vitamin D; therefore, long-term safety data is lacking. Massive-dose vitamin D may help with MG symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle weakness. It is believed to work similarly to corticosteroid therapy. It should not be offered as an alternative treatment option alone, but, with approval from a physician, may be considered as a supplement to other treatments.
- Chinese herbal medicine
Chinese herbal medicine (CHM), a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is widely used to treat MG symptoms. Although CHM has been practiced for thousands of years, current evidence is insufficient to support CHM as a routine treatment for MG. Adverse effects may be experienced with CHM; however, they are typically mild.
Acupuncture, another form of TCM, is a widely practiced method of treatment for many conditions, including MG. This method involves inserting fine, thin needles into the skin at specific points of the body. The strategic placement of the needles helps stimulate muscles and nerves, while increasing energy flow throughout the body. Although more clinical evidence is needed for its effectiveness and safety as an MG treatment, acupuncture has been shown to improve fatigue and eye weakness.