Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on maintaining the natural balance of the flow of energy (qi or chi) in the body. Treatment might include combinations of acupuncture, herbs, diet and nutrition, exercise and massage.
It's difficult to assess how effective traditional Chinese medicine is in the treatment of MS due to the lack of research published in English. Those studies which are available in English are often only single case studies, or very small.
Acupuncture is considered a relatively low risk treatment. The use of Chinese herbs needs to be approached with greater caution as their effects on the immune system are not fully known. A 2017 review of the use of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) concluded that due to the poor quality of the studies and the variety of methodologies used, it was difficult to recommend Chinese herbal medicine for MS. However, they did recommend that it's an area worth studying further.
A further review in 2020 concluded that TCM is complicated and it's difficult to say which treatment is right, but it has the potential to improve symptoms and reduce relapses in MS.
Herbal medicines can only be sold if they have been granted a traditional herbal registration (THR). This applies to treatments for minor health conditions, such as a cold, where medical supervision is not required. If a medicine claims to treat a major health condition, it needs to be authorised like any other drug.
A review of whether herbal practitioners should be regulated was published in 2015. This advised that regulation was not currently needed.
- [cited 26 Jan 2016] Read on the Gov.uk website Herbal and homeopathic medicines.
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2017;31:71-81. Summary Chinese herbal medicine adjunct therapy in patients with acute relapse of multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Chinese Medical Journal (English) 2020;134(3):278-280. Full text Focus on Chinese herbal medicine therapy for multiple sclerosis by dialectical treatment.