Marijuana, diets, supplements and alcohol took centre stage during a symposium at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers, in Maryland, USA.
Professor Allen C Bowling, an internationally recognised neurologist, claimed that lifestyle and unconventional medicine are “under recognised and underutilised tools” when working with MS.
As part of the symposium Expanding the MS toolkit: Integrating Lifestyle factors and unconventional medicine into MS clinical care, Prof Bowling made a presentation called Marijuana update, diets ad dietary supplements, alcohol use.
He believes that lifestyle and MS are linked, either directly or indirectly.
According to Bowling, lifestyle medicine refers to “daily habits and practices [such as diet] that are incorporated into conventional medical care to prevent or treat disease,” whereas unconventional medicine refers to “therapies that are generally not taught at medical schools or provided in hospitals.”
Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are also popular — in fact, about 50 – 70% of MS patients use CAM, he said.
Prof Bowling believes that integrative medicine is the best option, where there is “integration of lifestyle, unconventional and conventional medicine, but also emphasizes health and wellness of the whole person, [and is] supportive of the clinician-patient relationship.”
He said that MS can be a lifestyle motivator due to the suffering associated with the condition.
Concerning diet, he referred to salt as “one of single greatest dietary harms to health,” noting that the average American consumes about 4,000 mg a day, when the recommended dose is 1,500 to 2,300 mg a day. Obesity is also a concern, and an increased MS risk has been associated with childhood/adolescent obesity.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” he advised.
Marijuana, now legalised in several countries and some US states, was also discussed. According to Bowling, “marijuana improves [relief of] pain, spasticity, sleep. Side effects are well-documented, well-tolerated,” but he added that the “problem is the formulations.” He noted that concerns exist about standardisation, preparation and purity of medical marijuana.
As far as alcohol is concerned, Bowling said there is “no definitive effect on MS risk, health-related quality of life [or] disability.” He added that some studies have shown that “moderation [is] better than abstention.”
He advises, however, that alcohol can have an effect on MS patients in terms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts – and that its side effects may cause “decreased alertness/cognition, increased reaction times, incoordination, gait difficulties and fatigue.”