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What Is MS? How to Treat Multiple Sclerosis with Acupuncture and TCM


Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Rocks Balanced Traditional Chinese Medicine
Rocks Balanced

Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disorder in which the body’s defense system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve cells. Also known as MS, it is an autoimmune disease that affects many people in the United States and around the world. MS This leads to miscommunication between the brain and the rest of the body. TCM and Acupuncture are among the best approaches for improving the quality of life and managing symptoms of MS, without the negative side effects that other medicines that cause. In this article, we will learn how TCM diagnoses and addresses MS. We will also look at the cases of a few patients who have worked with Dr. Tan at Art of Wellness and experienced positive results.

Causes of MS

MS is an autoimmune disease in which infections or environmental changes can confuse the body’s defense system. Sometimes a foreign antigen mimics a group of the body’s own proteins. When the immune system response by mounting an attack against these foreign invaders, it inadvertently destroys the foreign antigen along with any similar antigens, including the body’s own tissues.

A recent study shows that a virus called adenovirus type 2 looks remarkably similar to the composition of the protective covering around the spinal cord and parts of the brain—the myelin sheath cells. The attacks of the immune system of this virus along with the mistaken attack on the myelin sheath is believed to be the ultimate cause of multiple sclerosis. 

Common symptoms of MS include:

  • numbness or tingling, usually in the leg or arm
  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness
  • spasticity
  • pain (moderate to severe)
  • Ataxia (impaired balance or mobility due to nerve damage)
  • tremor
  • slurred speech
  • blurry, double vision or blindness
  • bladder malfunction
  • bowel dysfunction
  • sexual dysfunction
  • depression
  • euphoria
  • cognitive abnormalities
  • fatigue
  • facial pain (Trigeminal Neuralgia)

How to Treat MS

myelin sheath protects brain cells
myelin sheath protects brain cells

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS yet. In Western Medicine, the treatment focuses mainly on decreasing the rate and severity of relapse. Beta interferons, anti-cancer drugs (to weaken the immune system), and steroids are commonly used for the treatment of MS. These medicines can reduce the number of MS lesions, delay the progression of the disease, and provide symptomatic relief for the patient.

A condition called “Wei Syndrome” with symptoms similar to MS, was documented 2000 years ago in a classic Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook called the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine has been involved in the treatment ever since. MS patients who have tried acupuncture report improvement in pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, fatigue, depression, anxiety, bowel and bladder function.

Most commonly, MS first manifests itself in a series of attacks followed by complete or partial remission as symptoms mysteriously lessen. These symptoms, however, will return later after a period of stability. This is called relapsing-remitting (RR) MS.

Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain can be a sign of something else

Dr. Tan Case Study – Diagnosis of MS

Mr. M, a healthy 50-year old gentleman, first visited my office a few years ago. As an attorney, he had been working very

hard to support his two daughters, who were both in college. About four months previous, the onset of severe lower back pain along with tingling in his left leg changed his life completely. He saw several doctors, had a number of x-rays and an MRI which revealed a moderate bulging disk on L4-L5. He tried different pain pills, NSAIDs, and underwent three months of physical therapy, none of which helped. Recently, he had been experiencing numbness and weakness in his left leg, and was suffering from depression due to his inability to carry on with daily work and regular activities. When he talked to me, I noticed that he constantly rubbed his eyes. I asked if he felt any abnormalities in his vision. He answered yes, and that he had periodic occurrences of blurred vision. When I suggested that he show me how he walks, I noticed his poor balance. He tended to fall on his left side because his left leg did not seem to follow his motion. Then I checked his knee and ankle reflex and found that they were excessively active. I was almost certain that the condition that made him suffer so much in the last few months was not a simple bulging disk or sciatica; it was a disorder of the central nervous system: Multiple Sclerosis. Immediately, I referred him to a neurologist and suggested that he have a brain and cervical MRI. Two weeks later, he came back to my office with a confirmed diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

Mr. M. is just one of 200 patients who are diagnosed with MS every week in the United States. There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million patients who are suffering from this disease in the world.

woman in a wheelchair
MS flare-ups can be managed with TCM

Patient Testimonial – Gilly

“I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in 1991 and I had no idea what a crazy, unpredictable journey I was about to embark on. I woke up one morning, tried to get out of bed but my legs were like jello, I had no balance and had double vision. I was given a spinal tap and MRI and lesions were detected on my brain & cervical spine. 

When first diagnosed, my neurologist put me on one of the few FDA approved medicines for MS which don’t cure the disease, but delay the progression. For that I inject myself daily and have done so for seventeen years. For the first seven years after being diagnosed, I experienced relapses (flare ups of symptoms) on average twice a year. The treatment for relapses was a five day course of steroids administered through IV, followed by twelve days of oral steroids. The relapses affected my motor skills the most, especially walking, but after a treatment of steroids, I was almost as good as new.  

My friends suggested that I try acupuncture. I was recommended to Dr. Tan because he had studied MS in China. Dr. Tan has been monumental in my life. He has given me treatments for a multitude of injuries I’ve suffered over the years due to frequent falls and is an expert in pain relief. He treats me for stress relief which contributes to my general well-being. Dr. Tan is very knowledgeable about Western medicine and MS treatments, so I always ask his opinion. 

I’ve now been diagnosed with MS for twenty-one years and feel fortunate that Dr Tan has been treating me for a large part of that time. Although I partake in Western medicine, I know that Western medicine only treats the symptoms, but Eastern medicine treats the cause of the symptoms. My MS has progressed to the stage that I now use a wheelchair full time. I go to acupuncture for preventative care. My immune system needs extra help, especially during cold and flu season.

I am very aware that MS is a ‘designer’ disease, and no two people have the exact same symptoms. I would encourage anyone with MS to avoid stress, keep up a healthy immune system and try to stay positive and happy, because your emotional state affects your physical being.

Self-Care for People with MS

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important for the MS patient. This includes:

tai chi
tai chi is great exercise
  1. Getting enough time to sleep and rest. Early bedtime is best.
  2. Exercise regularly. Tai Chi and Yoga are very good to help with relaxation, balance and muscle strength.
  3. Balanced diet, including a lot of vegetables and enough protein from white meat.
  4. Stress management
  5. Daily meditation and positive thinking
  6. Staying connected with friends and joining a support group

Our clinic has been chosen as one of the top 19 picks among 825 acupuncturists in the greater Los Angeles area. Dr. Tan is an expert in neurological conditions such as MS. Many patients like Gilly and Mr. M have been able to gain more control over their symptoms with their treatments at Art of Wellness. If you or someone you know has MS, call and visit our Santa Monica clinic to experience the best care available.

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