THURSDAY, July 2, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Despite the existence of conventional medications to manage multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, a majority of patients also rely on alternative therapies, including vitamins, exercise and marijuana, a new survey suggests.
For the study, researchers at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland asked MS patients if they used “complementary and alternative therapies” — medicines and practices outside of standard medical care.
A majority of just over 1,000 respondents said they used some type of alternative therapy, including marijuana, vitamins, herbs and minerals, plus mind-body therapies like exercise, mindfulness, massage and various diets.
An earlier survey, conducted in 2001, found some people regularly used these therapies — and many found them helpful — but only 7% were talking to their doctors about them.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call to physicians that they need to be more educated about complementary or alternative therapies, and then consider these therapies as part of the overall treatment plan for their patients,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Silbermann, a neurology fellow.
MS is a potentially disabling disease that results from the immune system attacking the nervous system and damaging nerves. Symptoms vary, and while some patients eventually lose their ability to walk, others may experience only mild symptoms. MS has no known cure, but treatments can slow the disease’s progression and help patients manage symptoms.
“We have a lot more treatment options for our patients, and we’re treating our patients earlier than we ever did before,” Silbermann said.
But now that there are so many more medications, the researchers wanted to know if people are still using complementary or alternative medicines.
To find out, Silbermann’s team surveyed MS patients in Oregon and Washington between August 2018 and March 2019.
The investigators found that 80% of respondents used dietary supplements (such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs) compared to 65% in 2001.
Around 70% reported using conventional medications to manage their MS symptoms.
The percentage using mind-body therapies (such as mindfulness and massage) nearly tripled — 39% of current patients, up from 14% in the earlier survey. More than eight in 10 were exercising, an increase from 67% in 2001.