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Q: Dear Dr. Power; A friend of mine has had multiple sclerosis for about 3 years, and it is getting worse quite quickly. I am in massage therapy school right now and have been using aromatherapy for almost 7 years, off and on. My question for you is, what can I do to help ease this time in her life? Is there any way to help the body produce more myelin? Thanks & blessed be, R.
A: Dear R., Thanks for your question and for your interest in using aromatherapy to help your friend. The best discussion of aromatherapy and MS that I have found is in Shirley Price's book, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals. In this book, she reports that essential oils have been used to improve sleep, strengthen muscles and relieve muscle tension and spasm in people with MS.
The oils used for these purposes (which have been reported to have good results) include Sandalwood, Geranium and Lemongrass. Rosemary has also been reported to help with muscle fatigue, balancing immune function, and memory.
Most interestingly, Price reports a specific case study in which an aromatherapist had wonderful success in helping a 46 year old woman with MS who came to her with spasms, headaches, pain in the neck and shoulder, and poor sleep. This aromatherapist initially used a massage oil containing 2 drops Roman Chamomile, 1 drop Lavender and 5 drops Sweet Marjoram (this should be diluted in 4 teaspoons carrier oil). In between visits, the patient's husband applied the oil mixture at night before bed. After several weeks, the aromatherapist changed to the following formula: Rosemary - 2 drops Roman Chamomile, 2 drops, Lavender - 2 drops and Cedarwood Atlas - 2 drops (again, this should be diluted in 4 tsp carrier oil).
The first formula she used is very deeply relaxing and would help to release stress and fear from the body and promote good sleep. The second formula would be a little more energizing and strengthening while still retaining the stress-reducing benefits of the Lavender and Chamomile.
I like the way in which this aromatherapist used the more deeply relaxing and comforting formula first ( so that her patient's body could get some rest) before using a somewhat more energizing formula. It is a common mistake, when people are experiencing fatigue, to apply energizing oils before the body is ready and/or to use too much of an energizing formula.
I am not aware of any essential oil that has been shown to regenerate myelin. However, many experts feel that there are dietary measures and supplements that can slow the progression of the illness and reduce the number of attacks.
Dr. Roy Swank, professor of neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School, recommends a diet low in saturated fats. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Murray and Pizzorno has an excellent discussion of this and other holistic approaches. Here's Dr. Swank's dietary recommendation as presented in their book:
- saturated fat intake of no more than 10 grams per day
- daily intake of 40 to 50 grams of polyunsaturated oils (margarine, shortening and hydrogenated oils are NOT allowed)
- at least 1 tsp of cod liver oil per day
- a normal allowance of protein
- consumption of fish three or more time per week (especially cold water fish)
A diet low in saturated fats significantly restricts animal sources of protein, which must be found in other sources (legumes, grains and vegetables).
Essential oils containing large proportions of esters and aldehydes have been recommended for MS patients (always dilute with carrier oils). Esters are found in high proportions in Lavender, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Sweet Marjoram and Roman Chamomile, which are all relaxing and antispasmodic. Aldehydes are found in Melissa, Lemongrass, and Eucalyptus citriodora. These are also often relaxing as well as uplifting but can cause skin irritation or sensitization so it is especially important to do two consecutive patch tests over at least 2 days and use very low concentrations in massage (maximum 1 drop per application to start).
I spoke today with my acupuncturist, who is a third generation traditional Chinese doctor, and he tells me that he has had much success in using acupuncture to help people with MS. Best of luck. Let me know how your friend progresses and, of course, feel free to call or write if you have further questions. Best Regards, Joie Power, Ph.D.