Overcoming a Nerve Disorder?

My husband was diagnosed last year with transverse myelitis. He has been prescribed only painkillers and sleeping pills. He is seeing an acupuncturist and trying some alternative therapies. What would you recommend?

– November 23, 2007

Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder resulting from inflammation affecting both sides of one section of the spinal cord. Symptoms include a loss of spinal cord function that begins suddenly and progresses over several hours or comes on over a matter of weeks. Often the first sign is sudden lower back pain, followed by muscle weakness in the arms and legs and burning, prickling or tingling in the legs. This can escalate quickly to more severe symptoms including impaired bowel and bladder function and paralysis.

No one knows for sure what causes this disorder. The inflammation may be set off by a viral infection such as shingles, an abnormal immune system reaction, or insufficient blood flow to the spinal cord. Some cases occur as a complication of measles, syphilis, or Lyme disease, and some patients have other autoimmune disorders, suggesting that transverse myelitis may be autoimmune in nature.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure. Treatment usually begins with steroids to suppress inflammation and abnormal immune activity. Later, the emphasis switches to keeping the body functioning in hopes that the nervous system will recover. About one-third of all those affected recover fully or with few after-effects. Another third may be left with some deficits. The rest do not recover at all and will remain bedridden or confined to a wheelchair.

In addition to conventional treatment, I suggest consulting a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, not just for acupuncture but for herbal therapies, as well. I would also try mind/body approaches such as hypnosis or guided imagery. To deal with any residual musculoskeletal problems, try the Feldenkrais Method, a type of body work that can increase ease and range of motion, and improve flexibility and coordination. Learn more at www.feldenkrais.com. Since transverse myelitis may be auto-immune in nature, follow my anti-inflammatory diet and take the measures below:

  • Decrease protein intake toward 10 percent of daily calories; replace animal protein as much as possible with plant protein.
  • Eliminate cow’s milk and milk products; substitute other calcium sources.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables regularly – organically grown if possible.
  • Eliminate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils, and all foods that might contain trans-fatty acids. Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take ginger (start with one capsule twice a day).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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