Autoimmune diseases are cunning. They catch us, and hold our bodies, minds and spirits in a pattern of disarray. Our own life patterns, emotional triggers, and spiritual disposition perpetuate the disease. This can cause the person suffering to feel a complete lose of control over their bodies and their lives.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, around 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. They are one of the top ten leading causes of death in children, and women age 65 and younger. Their impact is as great on our society as cancer and heart disease.
An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive, and losses the ability to recognize the person’s own tissue as a natural part of the body. It then attacks the target tissue as a foreign body, thus wreaking havoc by disrupting normal function and causing severe inflammation.Read more…
Multiple sclerosis is considered to be an autoimmune disease. It affects the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal chord and optic nerves. In MS, immune cells wear down the myelin sheaths that protect the nerves in the brain and spinal chord. Myelin is made mostly of fats, cholesterol and proteins. It protects the nerves, and allows them to send electrical impulses to and from the brain. The loss of this substance leads to an increase in neurological and motor impairment, among other things.
A client of mine, who lives a very professional semi-high profile life, was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She had health problems for many years, and sought medical advice as well as the advice of alternative practitioners. And while her diagnosis was very difficult, knowing that there was something truly wrong, and that she was not the hypochondriac that some medical professionals had brought her to believe, was a relief.
This protocol is an example of a successful way of dealing with MS. Just as any disease is different, so is every person. The plan must be tailored to best suit the individual. I offer some of the details of “Beth’s” plan as a model, and to increase awareness about plant medicine and the treatment of autoimmune diseases.
How To Come Up With the Protocol
The protocol is the recommended plan that the client can follow if they so choose. There are many components to a creating a protocol. It is important to assess the client from the perspective of organ system imbalances, emotional disposition and triggers, stress, and spiritual healing. This creates a plan specific to each person. One must also take into account the nature of the disease, but not expect to treat the disease. The disease has its own footprint that it imprints on the body that must be factored in. But in alternative medicine, our goal is to align the body, mind, emotions and spirit to create a terrain that disallows the disease to flourish.
With MS, as with other autoimmune disease, this is difficult. The nature of the illness is elusive, and changes its course quickly. There is no cure for an autoimmune disease. It can go into remission, but it will have a habit of rearing its little head to remind us to stay the course of change. I have found in my work with them, both personally and professionally, there are many tools we can access to manage them. These tools help us maintain and improve our quality of life.
PLEASE NOTE: It is important to take into account that when employing the use of alternative medicine where drugs may be used, you must know your drug contraindications. You must also know your client. They need to be very clear and honest about what choices they are making medically. Know, too, that it is important to work with the doctors, not against them. I have found many to accept the integration of alternative medicine with western medicine very well.
A Sample Protocol
“Beth” and Stress Triggers: Herbal Protocol Phase I
We often hear that stress can trigger a flair up in an autoimmune disease, and in this case, multiple sclerosis. This is true. But within that, a person’s reaction to stress can be different. “Beth” had a tendency to become extremely anxious and panic when stress would occur. Her anxiety was triggering many MS flare-ups. Through the lengthy period of diagnosis, and while waiting for the doctors to make their recommendations, I felt it important to address the anxiety first. It was the most immediate thing affecting her quality of life. The recommendation needed to support the nervous system, amongst other things.
“Beth’s” first formula became phase I. It was an herbal tincture consisting of motherwort for anxiety, blue vervain to calm and act as an anti-inflammatory in the nervous system, fresh milky oats as food for the nervous system, pulsatilla to support the anti-anxiety effects of motherwort, and St. Johns Wort, for depression, and as a nervine tonic. St. Johns Wort has also been found to regenerate the formation of dendrites in the nerves that have been damaged, thus improving the transmission of signals sent and received from nerve to nerve.
The formula worked beautifully, and gave “Beth” some hope throughout the difficult time of diagnosis. This formula is now a staple in Beth’s protocol. Though some of the herbs change, the concept of supporting the nervous system while lessening the level of anxiety will remain the same.
I also recommended milk thistle in tincture form at night to help maintain the integrity of her liver in the event of drug therapy. It is said that alcoholic extracts of milk thistle are not as effective as eating the seeds, or taking them in capsules. And the constituents of milk thistle are not water-soluble. But this particular client, and others I have had with autoimmune diseases, had trouble digesting seeds and nuts. For this reason, I felt it appropriate to recommend milk thistle tincture. It has worked so far, as the integrity of her liver has not been compromised by the one medication that she chose to take.
Diet and Supplements
There are a few necessary supplements useful in the treatment of MS. One is omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid found in fish oil and flax oil. The omega-3’s are food for the myelin sheaths, the protective covering of the nerves. They are anti-inflammatory in the body, and have been found to decrease flare-ups of those with autoimmune diseases.
Gamma-linolenic acid, found in black currant seed oil and evening primrose oil is another important supplement. It is thought to be another potent anti-inflammatory useful in the treatment of MS. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends 500 mg. of black currant seed oil daily, while David Hoffman, herbalist, recommends 500mg. of evening primrose oil daily.
Dr. James Duke believes in the benefits of the enzyme bromoline. It aids the assimilation of protein, and has anti-inflammatory properties. He also finds that it has been shown to help reduce the level of circulating immune complexes. These complexes activate the immune system to attack the body. Eating pineapple is a fabulous way to include bromoline in your diet. If you don’t feel you can get enough, I do recommend a supplement.
As far as dietary manipulation, it is important to look at the individual, and food intolerances. But there are certain recommendations I find myself making more than once. Eliminate wheat, dairy, sugar, foods high in saturated fat, and all hydrogenated oils. These are all foods that cause inflammation in the body, and disrupt intake of important nutrients. It is important to eat organic, whole foods. If you can, eat with the seasons. Seasonal balancing of the diet aligns the body with nature and your climate, thus building internal strength.
Once general practice of good dietary habits and a few supplements are in place, be sure to assess nutritional imbalances further before adding in more. It is most important to increase assimilation rather then stress out organs with more supplementation then is necessary.
“Beth”, like many, suffered from severe insomnia. Instead of compounding the number of herbs, I introduced an essential oil formula for her to rub on her feet, the back of her neck, and her temples. The formula was rose, spikenard (the Asian cousin to Valerian), and sweet mandarin. These are powerful sedatives, and proved to be effective.
Another oil that she chose to use during the day was lavender. Though lavender can be sedative for some, it is balancing emotionally. Lavender was a comforting scent for “Beth”. The grandmother energy of the plant reminded her that she was not alone.
Phase II: Herbs and Other Tools of Change
Phase II is often about pushing organs to increase function and assimilation, as well as to detoxify. If you have supported the body appropriately, and given your client time to adjust to life with the disease, it is a good time to push function a bit. “Beth”, like most patients with MS, suffered from constipation as well as poor assimilation of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. This light detox formula allowed her body to let go of unwanted toxins, increase function of organ systems, and increase nutrient assimilation. Herbs used for this process were liver tonics, dandelion root, and yellowdock; the lymphatic herbs burdock root and red root, and dandelion leaf tea for kidney support. Cascara sagrada was also used in a small amount for a brief period of time for constipation, with the intent to retrain the colon. Fennel and peppermint were added in to help with cramping and bloating.
Phase II also includes the beginning of change. I asked “Beth” to choose 1 or 2 things she would like to change about her life. She knew she needed to learn to relax, and felt exercise would aid this. She chose to do yoga several times a week with meditation. This would also be a tool to help her deal with her anxiety.
Phase III: Up to Progress
Phase III is dependant on how things have gone to this point, and on the choice of the client. There is a re-evaluation of organ system imbalances, and emotional health. The client, by now, has an idea of what they need. “Beth” has chosen to work more on digestion, for example. But she is feeling great relief, and not as worried about her future. She is beginning to understand the level of anxiety she feels, and how deep an emotional pattern it is.
Though I have not addressed the element of spiritual healing here, and I will not go into the specifics, it has been a natural part of “Beth’s” path. As she puts the shattered pieces of life back together, she does so with realization that every tool she chooses, she employs with great intent. With the intent, she inspires the spirit of the plant, or the helping spirit of the process to escort her, and show her something she needs to heal deeply. She walks a noble path with integrity and strength.
To learn more about multiple sclerosis visit http://www.understandingms.com.