Insufficient evidence to support complementary and alternative therapies for multiple sclerosis

April 19, 2014 James D. Bowen, M.D.

A guideline was recently published about the use of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis (MS).

The guideline process involves identifying all of the scientific articles about potential therapies and evaluating them based on their scientific merits. The evaluation process follows a strict set of requirements related to the conduct of the research.

The review included a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies that have been proposed for MS. Not surprisingly, most therapies did not have sufficient scientific data to determine whether or not they were effective. Some cannabinoid preparations (marijuana extracts) were shown to be effective, primarily for spasticity. This reflects a relatively large number of studies done with these compounds and the availability of a commercially available extract in some countries. A handful of therapies were shown to be ineffective. Most therapies had insufficient studies to determine their effectiveness.

The importance of this review is that it highlights how little we know about most of these therapies, their effectiveness and their safety. It also highlights the widespread use of complementary and alternative therapies in MS patients. If any of these therapies are going to be accepted into the mainstream of therapy for MS, much more research will be needed to prove their effectiveness.

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