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Charcot-Marie-Tooth: Weak Feet and Legs?

What can you tell me about Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease? Would Juvenon be a helpful supplement? If not, what would you recommend?

Answer (Published 3/3/2008)

Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, named for the three physicians who identified it in 1886, is an inherited disorder that affects the nerves serving the muscles in the arms and legs. Early symptoms include weakness of the foot and lower leg muscles, which can result in frequent tripping or falls. Foot drop may occur, and gait may change. Weakness of the small muscles in the feet can result in high arches and hammertoes (the middle joint of a toe bends upwards). Loss of muscle bulk can change the appearance of the lower legs giving them an "inverted champagne bottle" look. Eventually, the disease can affect the hands, leading to weakness and muscle atrophy and impairment of fine motor skills. CMT also causes pain that can range from mild to severe. But the severity of symptoms varies from patient to patient. The progression is often gradual, and the disease is not life threatening.

There are many types of CMT disease caused by different mutations in the genes involved. In some forms of CMT, inheriting only one copy of a mutated gene is enough to cause the disease; in others, you have to inherit abnormalities from both parents.

Although there’s no cure, physical and occupational therapy can strengthen and stretch muscles and increase stamina. Biking and swimming are recommended for cardiovascular fitness and general health, rather than walking or jogging, both of which may stress fragile muscles and joints. Ankle braces and other orthopedic devices can help provide support and stability. Some patients opt for surgery to reverse foot and joint deformities.

I don’t think Juvenon would be helpful specifically for CMT, but I would recommend lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom extracts. This medicinal and culinary mushroom from Asia has a beneficial effect on nerve growth and function. I also suggest consulting a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and trying the Feldenkrais Method, a type of bodywork aimed at increasing ease and range of motion, improving flexibility and coordination. The Method is frequently used to improve balance and coordination. Learn more at www.feldenkrais.com.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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