Acupuncture for ALS

by Pam Smith

Acupuncture for ALS

When a friend phoned me a few months ago to say she had been diagnosed with ALS, I had to do a bit of research into this fairly rare disease. After the call I started reading scientific papers to find out more about ALS  and see if there was any way I could help.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the American baseball player who was forced to retire in 1939 due to the disease. Most people are diagnosed when they are between 55 and 75 years of age, but some develop it at a younger age. My friend had just turned 60.

ALS affects the motor neurons responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. As the disease progresses, these motor neurons degenerate and die. The symptoms vary from person to person, but common symptoms include muscle weakness, difficulty speaking or swallowing, muscle cramps or twitching, and difficulty with fine motor skills. As the disease progresses, individuals may experience breathing problems and become completely paralyzed. This sounded awful – no wonder she was reaching out in this time of crisis.

One of many advancements in treatment that offers hope is gene replacement therapy where healthy copies of genes are introduced into the motor neurons to compensate for the ALS-associated gene mutations. To support my friend, I looked at traditional treatments for ALS that focus on managing symptoms and improving quality of life. I soon discovered that many people living with this condition choose acupuncture for ALS as a complementary therapy to manage symptoms such as pain and muscle cramps.

The exact cause of ALS was unknown in my friend’s case, although it is generally believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, there may be a family history of the disease or specific genetic mutations that increase the risk. It has been found that those who are either very active or lead a sedentary lifestyle were more likely to develop ALS than those who were moderately active. My friend didn’t have a family history of the disease as far as she knew. She had been very active all her life, which is why the diagnosis was such a shock to her.

Smoking is a risk factor and exposure to certain toxins or chemicals can play a role in the development of ALS. She has never smoked, but as for the toxins and chemicals, well they are all around us, and when she was young who knows what chemicals were commonplace in the household.

I made an appointment for her with my acupuncture doctor and went along for support. All I can say at this stage is that she is so much happier and more relaxed after receiving a course of ten treatments. She says the pain associated with the disease seems to be under control. For now she’ll continue with the acupuncture, until such time as she can get breakthrough treatment from mainstream medicine in addition to routine healthcare for ALS.