As relates to MS, the Chinese believe that the disease process most likely originates with a combination of spiritual and emotional factors, and that the “trigger” for the disease may be an experience of a feverish illness, usually an infectious disease. The weakening of and loss of control over the musculature may come about because the critical energizing and regulating functions of the internal organs have become disturbed due to the loss of spiritual focus, perhaps because of a frightful experience which has “scattered one’s soul from its resting place.” The triggering disease consumes vital fluid essences that are essential to nourishing the body and providing a relaxing medium for the spirit. Without spiritual relaxation, there is ongoing agitation, and destruction of bodily harmony.

Western medicine is still pursuing the precise description of MS, but currently it is believed that a combination of genetic predisposing factors and an episode of a common viral disease initiates an autoimmune process which leads to the symptoms of the disorder (inhibition of nerve transmission to the muscles), exacerbated by subsequent infections or other stimulants to the autoreactive immune system. In other words, the disease has nothing to do with either personal experiences (other than having an infection) or general bodily balance, but rather is attributed to an inherited coil of DNA and another slice of DNA provided by the virus. Therefore, TCM diverges from Western medicine by placing human experience above inheritance and biology as a cause. TCM practitioners would not deny that the specific disease manifestation—multiple sclerosis, rather than another chronic disease causing similar symptoms—might
be based on heredity, but they would focus on other experiences to explain why the disease arises and persists.

Therefore, the Oriental and Western views can be partially
reconciled by saying that a genetic propensity for the disease needs to be
present in order for one to experience MS, but that life experiences other than
the viral infection might also be necessary cofactors to initiate and maintain
the full disease process. MS is a relatively rare disease in China, and this is
believed by modern researchers to reflect a genetic difference between the Oriental
population and the others—mainly Caucasian—that have a higher incidence of the
disease. Further, MS is more common in individuals who grew up in northern
areas rather than southern areas, suggesting either exposure to a pathogen or
food product that is more common in the cold climates.

Among those with the necessary genetic and environmental factors,
the reason why some are afflicted with MS and others are not, or why the
disease follows such different courses in different individuals, remains an open
question for which TCM theory may provide some insights.

Although the Chinese see anxiety, depression, fright, and fear as
contributors to the disease process (helping to initiate and aggravate the
condition), Western doctors observe these emotional patterns in patients
diagnosed with the disease and attribute the emotional conditions largely to a
reaction to the diagnosis. That is, once a person is informed that they have a
disease which may be progressive and debilitating, they become anxious, depressed,
and fearful.

Western doctors observe demyelination of the nerve fibers and its
eventual scarring (sclerosis) as the characteristic pattern of MS.
Demyelination—a loss of fatty substance surrounding the nerve fibers—roughly
corresponds to a description, by Chinese doctors, of the loss of a vital fluid
essence (jing). The autoimmune process, with stimulated production of
antibodies that attack the body instead of attacking a pathological organism,
corresponds roughly to the Oriental description of dysfunction and disharmony
of the internal organs. Where the Western physician imagines the microscopic
changes revealed from isolated tissues, the Chinese physician imagines broad
processes that correspond to things experienced in daily life.


To resolve MS, a current Western medical approach is to find a protein that
will block the autoimmune attack, thereby stopping any further demyelination,
and thus preventing further development of MS. Another is to apply a peptide
(cytokine, a small protein, such as interferon) that regulates immune responses
and controls initiating viruses,thus reducing the number of MS attacks.
There are numerous other methods being investigated, in which something is
introduced into the body to interfere with the autoimmune process.
The Chinese medical approach is also to introduce
something into the body, with the aim of replenishing body essence and to
rehabilitate internal organ functions, through diet and herbs, rather than
products of advanced technology. Acupuncture is applied in an effort to rectify
the circulatory disturbances that arise from the disharmony of organ functions;
the improved circulation helps the organs and tissues return to a normal,
healthy condition. Further, steps to resolve underlying spiritual and emotional
distresses are undertaken on the basis of discussions and recommendations.

The herb combinations prescribed by doctors of Chinese medicine
are selected on the basis of past experience with treating “flaccidity
syndromes” (mostly diseases other than MS that cause muscular weakening) and on
the basis of the current health status of the individual. The latter is to be
established by asking questions and conducting some traditional diagnostic
procedures, such as analyzing the appearance of the tongue and feeling of the
pulse at the wrist. Not only do the symptoms of MS vary from individual to
individual, but also the health histories (such as coexisting diseases or
syndromes) are different, and these factors must be accounted for in determining
suitable prescriptions. Acupuncture treatments are likewise selected on the
basis of previous experience with other patients, such as those who experience
paralysis due to stroke, and on the basis of unique characteristics of the
individual currently under treatment. Thus, there is not a single remedy for MS
that can be offered through the traditional Chinese medical approach, but
rather a composite treatment based on individual needs.

To attain a successful outcome, the correct herb prescription for
the individual’s unique needs must be selected, the dosage must be adequate,
and the duration of treatment must be long enough so that beneficial results
persist once the therapy has been completed.

The duration of therapy for MS patients reported in Chinese
studies ranges from two months to over two years; herbs used to prevent
exacerbations might be taken for several more years. If the herbs are
discontinued after the initial treatment period, some patients may remain free
of symptoms for many years. In some cases, there can be a relapse, but prompt
resumption of herb use will help the individual regain freedom from disease
symptoms for a period of time. Despite the long duration of therapy necessary
in some cases, it is not uncommon in China for improvements to be noted within
the first two months.

Improvements to be expected include an enhancement in one’s
overall sense of well-being, a reduction in the severity of persisting
symptoms, a reduction in the use of drugs that control symptoms, including
antidepressant drugs, and a reduction in the incidence of bouts of weakness. In
some cases (perhaps 20%), the individual will apparently be cured.

The dosages of herbs used in Chinese clinical studies that have
demonstrated successful resolution of MS, and other chronic diseases, tend to be
quite high. Longer-term therapy with lower dosage, as used in Japan, has been
reported to produce good results, but no claims of cures, as yet. Because
Americans are not used to relying on herb remedies, the dosage applied in China
may seem exceptionally high when compared with ingestion of drugs, vitamins, or
even herb remedies that are administered for less serious disorders. Chinese
herbs may be provided in bulk form to make a strong decoction, or by spoonfuls
of powdered herb or extracts. If the herbs are taken in pill or tablet form,
the number of them to be ingested might be quite high.

While the herb compounds used in treating MS are nontoxic, it is
possible to experience some reactions. The most likely adverse response is a
gastro-intestinal reaction that might include indigestion, loss of appetite,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence and bloating. Such reactions can
usually, but not always, be eliminated by changing the time of taking the herbs
in relation to meals, by providing a digestion-promoting formula (or a simple
ginger tea) to be taken at the same time, or by using a different prescription.

If herb therapy is the primary method of treatment and if there
are no special difficulties encountered (e.g., no need for frequent changes in
prescription), an office visit every two to three months may be adequate once a
treatment program has been established. If acupuncture is pursued as an
additional therapy, treatments might be undertaken at the rate of three to four
times per month (more frequently following an exacerbation of MS). An
acupuncture procedure known as scalp acupuncture appears to provide the best

In addition to the traditional Chinese techniques, nutritional interventions
may be suggested; these are based on Western research, but have been adopted
as part of natural medicine in modern China. For example, studies have shown
that some individuals with MS have low blood levels of vitamin B12,
a nutrient which is essential to myelin sheath repair (it may be necessary to
give this nutrient by injection, since poor intestinal absorption may be the
reason for low blood levels).

Calcium supplements can be especially important to women suffering from MS,
since any reduced mobility from the disorder can lead to increased risk of
osteoporosis. Magnesium supplements could be helpful in reducing spasms, which
are a problem for some persons with MS. Dietary modifications, to remove
allergens and to adjust the fat content (to very low levels), have been
reported as helpful in some patients.

The outcome depends also on the nature and extent of the nerve
damage that has occurred, and on the willingness and ability of the person to
attempt the physical therapies to restore mobility. If there remains some
limited ability to walk when acupuncture and herb therapy are initiated, then
it is very likely that the individual can be coaxed into a greater mobility.

Irregularity in using Chinese medical therapies (infrequent acupuncture,
missing daily doses of herbs) appears to be the main reason for poor results
among those with the relapsing/recovering type of MS. With MS, as with many
other chronic diseases, some individuals who try the Chinese medical approach
stop using it before it can have a marked effect. This drop-out from treatment
may be due to inconvenient access to the clinical site, unwillingness to take
the herbs and supplements regularly, or disappointment if there is not prompt,
dramatic, and sustained benefit. Few participants, regardless of their
enthusiasm for the method, were able to come to the clinic for twice-per-week
acupuncture, during the first 2–3 months of treatment, as would be preferred
from the practitioner’s point of view.

Since scleroses is a cumulative process, effective control of the
disease over an extended period of time can also prevent the worsening of
symptoms that occurs when large areas of nerve fibers are damaged. For many
chronic diseases, Western medicine offers a control of symptoms through
life-long administration of a synthetic drug. Substituting a life-long
application of Chinese herb formulas may produce comparable results, while
avoiding some of the side-effects typically associated with the chemical
isolates that comprise pharmaceutical products. More importantly, the Chinese
medical therapies aimed at relieving the MS can help treat other health
problems at the same time.

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