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Does Acupuncture Work for Multiple Sclerosis?

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Updated May 01, 2007

Question: Does Acupuncture Work for Multiple Sclerosis?
Answer: Acupuncture is an ancient medical system that holds promise for treating many conditions. To date, there have been no large studies of acupuncture and MS. Given that acupuncture has no history of treating MS and there is a possibility that acupuncture may make MS worse – we recommend avoiding acupuncture until further studies are done.

Evidence for Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been shown to help people with a variety of symptoms. Overall, acupuncture has been shown to relieve postoperative and chemotherapy-related nausea and postoperative dental pain. Research has also been done that shows promise for addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps and other conditions. There has been almost no research on MS and acupuncture.

Acupuncture's Mechanism

There are various theories within the acupuncture world that discuss how the placement of the needle “unblocks” the body’s vital energy, called qi or chi. Chinese medicine does not contain the concept of a nervous system, rather relies on theories of how the vital energy moves through a system of pathways (called “meridians”) in the body. Part of this increased energy flow may be due to a stimulation of the immune system.

MS and Acupuncture

Because acupuncture may stimulate the immune system, there is an implied danger in using acupuncture for MS. Most researchers believe that MS is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it is the result of the body’s immune system attacking the healthy cells surrounding the nerves, called myelin. If acupuncture stimulates the immune system, there is a chance it may increase the damage caused by MS by activating the very immune cells that are attacking the person’s own myelin.

But My Acupuncturist Said . . .

Acupuncture is an ancient medical system that evolved thousands of years ago in China and Asia. MS is an adult-onset illness first diagnosed in 1849 that occurs mostly in people of European descent. Acupuncture simply has no history of treating MS, either historically or in modern times. That is not to say that acupuncture is not valuable, but that it currently has no proven application for MS – only theories.

The Bottom Line

Overall, acupuncture cannot be recommended for MS. It may be useful in the short term for treating some MS symptoms, but the risk of increasing immune system activity is too great. Seek other alternative therapies until we have more information on acupuncture.

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