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Drugs for ms

MagazineSeptember 1995 (Vol. 6 Issue 6)Drugs for ms

Q:My neurologist has recently prescribed the drugs baclofen and

Q:My neurologist has recently prescribed the drugs baclofen and

Unfortunately, I know nothing of these drugs, and after various bad experiences with treatments in the past (steroids, lumbar punctures, etc), I hesitate to embark on a course of drugs without knowing the possible results.

I suspect, from the neurologist saying something about a dry mouth, that one of the prescriptions is an "anticolinergic", and deliberate interference with the whole of my parasympathetic nervous system definitely doesn't appeal.

Could you tell me what other symptoms I might experience? I would be grateful if you could describe the function of both the drugs and their side effects, both short and long-term.

Is there a danger of becoming dependent on the drugs and having to take them for the rest of my life? If I take them for a short trial period, would the short-term side effects be reversible, given that my nerve pathway seems very prompt to learn new pain and discomfort, but very slow to forget. E S, Stockport......

A:As we see time and again, the medical treatment of illness often resembles a great deal of mud-slinging against a wall, hoping some of it will stick. Orthodox medicine has nothing in its arsenal that cures, or even treats, MS, but that doesn't stop it from handing out a load of dangerous drugs. Steroids are often given in MS because doctors believe it will somehow bring about a relapse, without a shred of evidence that it offers anything but a load of dangerous side effects.

Baclofen is an antispastic drug, which supposedly works from the spine by depressing some reflex transmission and inhibiting the release of excitatory amino acids glutamate and aspartate, although the manufacturer, Geigy (in the US) admits it doesn't really know how it works. Ciba Laboratories, which makes Lioresal, a brand-name of baclofen, warns that it's best for patients whose disease renders them unable to perform activities or physiotherapy. But treatment shouldn't be commenced until the "spastic state has become stabilized," whatever that means. Supposedly it helps to alleviate spasms, muscular rigidity and the pain that accompanies them.

In animal studies, baclofen has caused ovarian cysts and enlarged and bleeding adrenal glands. Indeed, ovarian cysts have been found in women patients given baclofen for up to a year, although in most cases the cysts disappeared spontaneously even while patients were still on the drug.

Dry mouth is the least of your problems. Patients on this drug can

experience psychiatric problems, like confusion, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), blurred vision, epileptic seizure, lowering of blood pressure and chest pain, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, impotence, increased need to urinate (and bedwetting), and weight gain. Ironically, it also causes muscle pain, slurred speech and lack of coordination, tremours and rigidity the very symptoms you're trying to alleviate!

The second drug, prothiaden, is an old-style tricyclic anti-depressant, presumably given to make you less depressed about your condition.

Their side effects are well known: dry mouth (again, the least of your problems), memory problems and confusion, mania, paranoid delusions, delirium, disorientation, blurred vision, sexual dysfunction, and dangerous lowering of blood pressure, which again will increase your tendency to fall.

If this laundry list of side effects doesn't appeal, there are good alternatives. In WDDTY vol 1 no 3 we outlined the approach of our panel member Dr Patrick Kingsley, who has helped more than 60 per cent of his MS patients get better without drugs. Our panel member Melvyn Werbach has amassed a huge number of studies demonstrating that a nutritional approach can alleviate symptoms.

He and Dr Kingsley concur that the first thing to do is to rule out food allergies. Many studies suggest that food allergies or intolerance can cause MS, particularly milk and milk products (The Lancet, 1974; 2: 1061-6). Other studies show a sensitivity to moulds and fungi or cocoa (Calif Med, November 1953 and Ann Allergy, 1987; 59: 76-9).

The final environmental hazard is the mercury in amalgam fillings; mercury poisoning has been found in many patients with "sclerosing" diseases like MS (see WDDTY vol 6 no 2 and the WDDTY Dental Handbook).

Many patients following a low-saturated-fat diet deteriorate far less than those who consumed more fat (The Lancet, 1990; 336: 25-6).

MS victims have been found to be deficient in essential fatty acids, particularly the omega-3 variety (Nature, 1967; 215: 821-3). Dr Werbach suggests, as a rule of thumb, that MS patients take three capsules of MaxEPA fish oils, or the equivalent, three times daily (9 gms in total). However, omega-6 fatty acid supplements either safflower oil or evening primrose oil may also be beneficial.

Other important deficiencies requiring supplementation include B12

(almost always present in MS patients, according to Dr Kingsley), thiamine and vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, selenium, copper and zinc. Some patients have benefitted from massive injected doses of various vitamins, particularly the B vitamins (J Appl Nutr, 1973; 25: 16-40).


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