At-Home Treatment Options for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. With MS, the immune system attacks the protective shell (myelin) of nerve fibers throughout the body. Scar tissue then accumulates around the nerves, which eventually causes nerve damage. Once the nerves are damaged with scar tissue, they cannot receive signals sent from the brain to properly operate. Since the nervous system controls every movement of the body, MS can cause vision issues, movement and muscle control problems, balance issues, and other health complications. The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is not yet clear.
Thorough treatment of multiple sclerosis involves more than just medications and medical treatments. Several steps can be taken at home to decrease flare-ups and reduce symptoms, including physical activity, lifestyle changes and stress management.
Regular physical activity is essential when dealing with multiple sclerosis. Not only does it strengthen muscles, improve balance, and increase flexibility, but it can also help reduce stress. This is especially true for gentle activities, such as tai chi and yoga. Another type of exercise that may be beneficial for symptoms of MS is salsa dancing, which requires the body to move in multiple directions at once. This type of movement may stimulate brain function.
Certain lifestyle changes can also help mitigate the effects of MS. Cigarette smoking not only increases the risk of MS, but it also speeds up disease progression, so quitting the habit of cigarette smoking is important. Getting enough sleep is also essential. Studies have found that sleep apnea (when an individual stops breathing for a short time during sleep) can worsen MS-related fatigue. In some cases, extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) can also exacerbate symptoms, so avoiding extreme temperatures as much as possible is recommended.
Receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be stressful. In many cases, stress, whether from the illness itself or from outside factors, can worsen symptoms of MS. This is especially true for the symptom of fatigue. Participating in relaxing activities, such as reading, listening to music, or meditating, can help reduce stress levels. Deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation may also be helpful. Sharing thoughts and feelings with family, friends, a support group or a therapist can also reduce stress levels.
Certain dietary changes may be beneficial when dealing with multiple sclerosis. Research is still ongoing, but high salt intake may trigger MS or cause increased inflammation of those living with MS; therefore, experts recommend a diet low in salt. Also, eliminating inflammation-causing foods such as dairy and eggs may help prevent relapses.
Studies show that adequate levels of vitamin D both decreases the risk of developing MS and can also lessen the frequency and severity of symptoms in individuals living with MS. Exposure to sunlight is an efficient way to get more vitamin D. Other vitamins that may be helpful include vitamin A; vitamins B-1, B-6, and B-12; vitamin C; and vitamin E.
Before beginning an exercise program, making dietary changes, or taking a new vitamin or supplement, a physician should be consulted. Working with a health care provider to determine the best combination of medications, therapies, and at-home treatments is essential.