Garden Therapies












Natural Remedies that may help manage the symptoms of MS

Herbs are plants with properties that may improve or maintain health. Herbs were the basis of medical treatment for much of human history. Indigenous communities worldwide collected knowledge of plants for healing and health.

Many pharmaceuticals developed from this early understanding of natural plants. About one quarter of prescription medications and many over-the-counter medicines are derived in some way from plants.

However, Pharmaceuticals generally consist of a single active ingredient in precise amounts. They have been tested in people under rigorously controlled conditions, and are tightly regulated in terms of manufacturing and marketing. While herbs have multiple active ingredients in imprecise amounts. They are loosely regulated in terms of both manufacturing and marketing and are easily purchased by the consumer. Because herbs lack the moneymaking potential of patentprotected pharmaceutical drugs, less research has been conducted on the properties of natural plants, so that unfortunately scientific evidence for their effective treatment remains limited.

Guidelines for use

In general, herbs should be used for a short ti me for benign, self-limited conditions. Buy high-quality products. Always discuss herb use (or other dietary supplements) with your physician or healthcare practitioner. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and people who are taking multiple medications will probably be advised not to use herbs.

For Mild Depression

St. John’s wort is a yellowfl owering perennial herb. Hippocrates, Pliny and Galen all described St John’s wort, which has the Latin name hypericum perforatum, as a treatment against possession by demons in ancient Greece. Its name is based on the fact that it was traditionally harvested on June 24, St. John’s day. The most important traditional use is to treat depression, and St. John’s Wort contains several possibly active ingredients, including hyperforin and hypericin. The herb has effects on neurotransmitters in the brain that are similar to the effects of some widely used prescription antidepressants. Many small studies and one influential ‘meta-analysis’ (a study that pools the results of multiple other studies) concluded that St. John’s Wort is indeed an effective treatment for mildto-moderate depression. Subsequently, two more studies have contradicted this finding. Thus, there is no uniformity of scientific opinion. None of these studies were conducted specifically with people who have MS and depression.

Depression, especially severe depression, can lead to devastating consequences. It should be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare expert. In any case, St. John’s wort should not be used for severe depression. This herb can affect the potency of some prescription medications, including, importantly, birth control pills. So it is important to discuss the use of St. John’s wort with your doctor.

For Better Sleep

Valerian, used in ancient ayurvedic medicine and by the Chinese, has been prescribed since ancient times for its calming and sleep-inducing properties.

Once referred to as “the Valium of the 19th century”, Valerian was later used to treat shellshock victims in the first world war, and a number of studies have suggested that valerian may indeed promote sleep. The key to its sedative qualities lies in a group of ingredients called valepotriates. One of these, valerianic acid, inhibits the breakdown of the brain chemical gammaamino butyric acid - a natural tranquilliser.

In 1996, researchers at the Psychiatric University in Basel, Switzerland, found that valerian extract was as effective as benzodiazepines in treating insomnia, but had markedly fewer side effects. Half the benzodiazepine group complained of unpleasant symptoms, compared to just 10% of the valerian group.

Various clinical studies have shown that a standardised extract of valerian - taken in doses of up to 900mg, one hour before bedtime - improves sleep quality without causing grogginess the morning after. Taken in smaller doses (400mg), it has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety.

The effects seem to require daily use for two to four weeks (as opposed to sporadic use on an ‘as needed’ basis). Valerian is also used to manage anxiety and spasticity, but there is less published research to support these uses.

Valerian is usually well tolerated, although it may worsen MS-related fatigue, especially if taken in combination with other sedating medications such as baclofen (Lioresal), tizanidine (Zanaflex), diazepam (Valium), or alcohol. Other side effects may include headache, liver toxicity and - paradoxically - excitability and insomnia.

Like synthetic tranquillisers, it should not be taken with alcohol, when pregnant or breastfeeding, or when driving or operating machinery. Large doses over long periods can side effects such as headaches, giddiness, blurred vision, restlessness and nausea.

To Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

People with MS, especially those who tend to retain urine, are at an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs can cause serious health problems, including an increase in neurological symptoms like weakness and fatigue.

Among people with healthy bladder function there is some evidence that cranberry decreases the frequency of UTIs. Unfortunately, it is less clear whether cranberry prevents UTIs among people with abnormal bladder function caused by MS or other neurological problems.

It is quite clear that people with MS should never use cranberry to treat existing infections. Cranberry may also interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). In very large doses, for example a gallon a day (128oz./3.8 litres), cranberry can cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea.

On the other hand, it may be reasonable to attempt to prevent infections with cranberry given that this is a low-risk approach. The doses suggested for prevention are 1-10 oz. (30- 300ml) of juice daily. Cranberry juice cocktail, which some people find more palatable, is only 26-33% juice. Six capsules of dried powder or 1.5 oz. (45ml) of frozen or fresh cranberries is roughly equivalent to 3 oz. (90ml) of juice.

For Constipation

Clinical studies have shown that Psyllium, a form of dietary fi bre, or roughage, effectively treats constipation. It acts as a bulkproducing agent when it comes in contact with water. Stool, made larger with psyllium, is more readily moved through the intestines. In addition, several studies suggest that a diet that includes the fibre found in psyllium can reduce cholesterol.

Indeed, this is why some breakfast cereals that contain fibre claim to reduce cholesterol. There may be other benefits too, such as decreased blood pressure and even a lower mortality rate from heart disease.

Psyllium is usually well tolerated. However, if fl uid intake is insufficient, it can cause choking or bowel obstruction. Each dose of psyllium should be accompanied by a full glass (8 oz./250ml) of water.

Regular exercise and a diet high in fibre and fl uids can also help. Eat lots of raw fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains, rice or oat bran-rich foods, and ground flaxseeds, which have high fi bre content and make stools larger, softer and easier to pass.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they cause fluid loss, worsening constipation. Dandelion root tea or yellow dock tea stimulate the liver and act as a mild laxative. The herb cascara sagrada is a powerful laxative, but do not use for more than a week or two at a time.

For Incontinence

Herbalists recommend Galeopsis for incontinence. Galeopsis is also known as hemp nettle, which contains a large amount of silica, saponins and tannins. The astringent action of the tannins helps in toning up tissue and silica is of great importance for the regeneration of tissue. It can take a few months to work.
Also recommended to strengthen the bladder is a silica supplement such as Hubners Silicea. Use cayenne pepper and cardamom in cooking - both are used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for incontinence.

For Stress Relief

Neurotone is a herbal remedy for the relief of stress, anxiety and irritability. It contains hops, valerian and skullcap, which act on the nervous system to reduce tension, and gentian to settle nervous stomachs and boost immunity.

You could also take Goodnight, a herbal concoction that contains valerian, passiflora, hops and wild lettuce - all recommended for stress-related sleep disorders - and vervain, which calms anxiety.

Practical Considerations

Herbs may be of use in managing some common and serious MS symptoms. Like conventional medications, however, there are always risks to consider – especially in special situations such as pregnancy, lactation, or when other diseases are present.

Like drugs, herbs can have side effects and can interact with other herbs or with over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Even herbs generally deemed safe can be unsafe for people with particular medical conditions.


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