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ALS is a rare neurological disease that currently has no cure. Hence, patients often turn to complementary and alternative medicine to treat symptoms of the disease or delay disease progression. This article outlines the common alternative therapies.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurological disease that is characterized by loss of motor neurons (nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement).

As ALS currently has no cure, many patients look to complementary and alternative medicine or therapies to help treat the disease. Generally, they are used alongside conventional western medicine as an attempt to heal or relieve disease symptoms and are not a replacement for standard medicine.

Many of these therapies have been around for centuries and are derived from all over the world. They are outlined below.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting thin needle into the skin at particular points with the goal of achieving a range of therapeutic effects such as pain reduction. It is a practice that originated in ancient China and is a standard component of traditional Chinese medicine. Some western approaches to acupuncture include application of small electric currents or chemical through the insertion of the needle. There is some evidence from studies that acupuncture can help relieve pain and spasticity in ALS.

Chelation therapy

Chelation therapy is a medical procedure in which a drug known as a chelating agent (which can be administered into the veins, muscle or orally) is given to the patient in order remove heavy metal from the body, which are often toxic. The chelating compound is then excreted from the body. However, despite the many studies over the years on this subject, there is no consistent evidence to show that heavy metal toxicity in present in patients with ALS. Therefore, there is no strong evidence for chelation therapy and some studies have even shown a toxic effect of chelation therapy in this patient population.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a type of therapy that makes use of oils that are extracted from “aromatic” plants. These oils are thought to have several benefits on the mind, body, and spirit. However, while it can be beneficial in some aspects, it is important use these oils with caution as they can cause adverse reactions in some patients (particularly those with respiratory issues).

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is a type of therapy that uses hypnosis techniques with counseling to induce a state of deep relaxation. In theory, this allows the therapist to bypass the conscious mind and communicate directly with the subconscious. Hypnotherapy can be beneficial when it comes to relieving sleep issues, fear, anxiousness, stress, and panic.

Massage

Massage is a type of physical therapy that involves use of pressure on the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Massages can also help relieve psychological stress, manage pain, improve circulation and relieve tension. However, it should only be used in consultation with a physician, as it can sometimes be harmful to certain muscles.

Energy healing 

Energy healing is a branch of alternative medicine in which a healer channels “healing energy” onto a patient to cure them of a certain disease. The most common approaches include spiritual healing, psychic healing, prayer, healing touch, esoteric healing, magnetic healing, Qigong healing, pranic healing and crystal healing. There have been no clinical trials that have investigated energy healing in patients with ALS. However, some individuals feel that it does help their state of mind.

Reflexology

Reflexology is a type of ancient technique that makes use of pressure points on particular body parts, such as the feet and hands, in order to induce relaxation, stimulate vital organs, and encourage healing in other parts of the body. This technique places belief in the fact that all parts of the body are connected to the feet and that the pressure points in the feet can help heal illness, stress, injury, or disease

Reiki

Reiki is another type of ancient healing technique that involves the therapist’s hands being placed at specific positions on or above the body to channel energy through the body to promote healing.

Shiatsu

Shiatsu is a form of acupuncture that involves the application of rhythmic pressure at particular places on the body to encourage flow of energy. Shiatsu can also involve the gentle stretching of limbs.

Meditation 

Meditation is a type of relaxation technique that can help patients manage anxiety and stress that often inflicts patients with ALS, as well as their caregivers. Meditation is a type of conscious relaxation that uses breathing and focusing techniques to relax. Through these exercises, the body becomes consciously relaxed, the mind can become clear and focused, and outlook on life improves. While most religions use meditation or prayer techniques for spiritual awareness, meditation does not have to be religion-based. Meditation can also be learned through classes, or through the use of books, videos, compact discs, and tapes.

Cannabis

There is a large body of evidence that states that cannabinoids (the active ingredient of cannabis), can help treat patients with ALS. Furthermore, by manipulating a system in our body known as the endocannabinoid system, cannabis can potentially modify disease progression. Several animal studies suggest that the endocannabinoid system is involved in development of ALS. Researchers have shown, by experiments on animal models of the disease, that cannabis is capable of slowing disease progression of ALS. While unclear how cannabis help, it likely occurs by acting as an antioxidant and has a neuro-protective mechanism.

  • Wasner, Maria, Helga Klier, and Gian Domenico Borasio. "The use of alternative medicine by patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis." Journal of the neurological sciences 191.1-2 (2001): 151-154.
  • Bedlack, Richard S., et al. "Complementary and alternative therapies in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis." Neurologic clinics 33.4 (2015): 909-936.
  • Tandan, Rup, and Walter G. Bradley. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Part 1. Clinical features, pathology, and ethical issues in management." Annals of Neurology: Official Journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society 18.3 (1985): 271-280.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth.com

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