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Integrative Medicine and MS

By Matt Cavallo
I didn’t know it at the time, but in 1999, a movie that my wife (then girlfriend) and I watched would help shape our MS journey just six short years later. The movie was Man on the Moon. It was the story of comedian Andy Kaufman’s life and death. The compelling part of the movie for me was that when Andy was diagnosed with cancer he sought out CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) treatments and healers. His journey took him all around the world as he raced against the clock and an aggressive form of cancer.
My own journey started when I was diagnosed with MS in 2005, and thankfully, that clock is still ticking. Why am I discussing CAM alternatives? Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease, meaning that there is no cure or vaccine. While there are disease-modifying therapies available for people living with MS, none of the DMTs can cure a person of multiple sclerosis. When I was first diagnosed, there were only four available DMT options all of which were self-injectable. Today, there are more than 10 FDA-approved DMTs for MS, but none of them can stake claim to a cure.
Because there is no known cure, a person living with multiple sclerosis will face a life of managing symptoms, either from an active relapse or damage from a previous relapse. Traditional western medicine can help manage symptoms while an MS patient is experiencing an acute relapse. Integrative medicine and CAM, however, can help manage symptoms, regain functionality, and sustain a good quality of life in-between relapses.
What is integrative medicine? Integrative medicine improves the relationship between the clinician and patient by focusing on the patient as a whole and making use of all of the healthcare professions for optimal health and healing. Integrative medicine integrates conventional medicine with CAM therapies and believes that medicine is just one piece of the puzzle to achieving health and wellness. Let’s look at the different professionals that participate in integrative medicine today.
  • Medical doctor – A medical doctor is a fully licensed professional who can practice in all areas of medicine. An M.D. with an ABIHM certification is a medical doctor who practices integrative medicine. The most notable Integrative M.D. is Dr. Andrew Weil.
  • Doctor of osteopathic medicine – Like an M.D., a DO can be licensed in all areas of medicine, but have an emphasis in a whole-person approach to treatment and care. DOs are trained to listen and partner with their patients to help them get healthy and stay well.
  • Doctor of chiropractic medicine – A DC is not licensed in all areas of medicine. DCs are licensed to provide chiropractic manipulations.
  • Doctor of naturopathic medicine – An ND is a medical professional who focuses on traditional healing methods. NDs have a focus on prevention, but can also help in the management of chronic illness, like MS. An ND can serve as your primary physician or work in conjunction with an MD or DO to manage care.
  • Licensed acupuncturist – A licensed acupuncturist has a focus in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Chiropractors and naturopathic doctors often times become licensed acupuncturists and incorporate acupuncture into their practice.
Other professionals that work in integrative medicine include: advanced practice nurses, registered nurses, midwives, physician assistants, registered dieticians, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers.
Andy Kaufman sought leading integrative medicine healers across the globe as he fought against time. For me, taking an integrative medicine approach to managing my MS means combining conventional medicine like my primary care, neurologist, and DMD with CAM alternatives treatments from my naturopathic doctor, chiropractor, and acupuncturist. Keep in mind that every MS journey is personal and what works for one person, may not work for someone else. However, I believe that if you are going to fight than you should use all the resources you have at your disposal. For me, I have always felt as though a blend of conventional medicine and CAM therapies have helped me achieve the best quality of life in my battle against MS. As always, talk to your primary care physician or neurologist before starting any new treatments.