Canada Health Alliance

Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Treating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Narrative Review

Mudan Cai and Eun Jin Yang

Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by selective motor neuron cell death in the motor cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord. Two drugs for ALS, riluzole and edaravone, have been approved by FDA for the treatment of ALS patients. However, they have many side effects, and riluzole extends the patient’s life by only 2–3 months. Therefore, ALS patients seek an effective therapy for treating the symptoms or delaying the progression of ALS. Based on this, we review the effects of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in ALS animals or patients to verify the efficacy of CAM in incurable diseases.

Methods: For this review, we searched published papers focusing on the effect of CAM in pre-clinical and clinical study in ALS. The search keywords included amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, acupuncture, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, CAM, animals, and clinical study through electronic databases PubMed and Google Scholar from their inception until March 2019.

Results: In the ALS animal model, CAM modulated the immune system to increase motor function by reducing the expression levels of neuroinflammatory proteins in the spinal cord. Besides this, ALS patients treated with herbal medicine showed improved disease symptoms, but clinical trials with larger sample sizes are needed to develop a treatment with this herbal medicine.

Conclusion: This review shows that CAM may be useful for ALS treatment, but more evidence regarding the efficacy and molecular mechanisms is required to establish CAM as a good therapy for the treatment of ALS patients.

Image: Katherine Hanlon @ Unsplash

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