What is multiple sclerosis? To treat MS, we need to spend time really understanding what it is, what is happening in the body, and what is causing the body to continue to experience MS. This presentation is based on a paper written by Eva M Clark, “A New Treatment Protocol for Multiple Sclerosis Based on an Expanded Lens of Disease Etiology.” The presentation aims to increase the understanding of what MS is to better select an effective treatment that targets what it is. To do so, we will review how four different medical models understand MS: conventional medicine model, mind-body medicine, Tibetan medicine, and consciousness medicine.
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis does not fit the profile we would associate with illness. People diagnosed with MS are not old and unhealthy. Instead, they are hard-working adults in their prime. MS is not genetic either. The chance of developing MS if a family member has the disease is only slightly higher than the general population. Interestingly, the chances of getting MS seems to depend more on gender, culture, latitude, geographic region, and race than how physically healthy we are. The most common profile of someone diagnosed is an educated caucasian woman between the ages of 20 and 40, living in northern gradients of first world countries.
Currently, MS is a confusing disease. It is clear that it’s not a genetic disease, but it is unclear what environmental factors are key to its formation (virus? toxins? stress?). The number of myelin lesions does not directly correlate to the type, quantity, or intensity of symptoms. It is also not clear why some people relapse and remit and others slowly progress. MS might be more than one disease. Our current understanding is that T-cells cross the blood-brain barrier and attack the central nervous system leading to damage and lesions. It is not known what triggers the T-cells to do such a thing. Even diagnosing can prove difficult, especially when symptoms are not typical or no myelin lesions are visible (10% of cases do not have visible lesions). Perhaps because of all these unknowns, conventional Medicine has been unable to find a cure, and current treatments only reduce exacerbations and temporarily slow down progression. That’s why we need to expand our view beyond conventional medicine.
Expanding Our Understand of What is MS
In biomedicine, also known as conventional, allopathic, mainstream, orthodox, and western medicine, disease is thought to be caused by mechanical, hormonal, or genetic malfunctions in the body. This model assumes that disease can be fully accounted for by detecting abnormalities in measurements of biological markers. Whenever you are ill and visit a conventional medical doctor, they will do a series of tests to find what measurements are unusual through blood tests, urine samples, x-rays, or MRI screening. Diagnosis is made by assessing the test results. If the tests show no abnormalities, disease cannot be diagnosed (no matter how miserable one feels). Usually, that means more invasive tests are needed to be made to continue to look for the slightest differences. Once the unusual measurements are discovered and a diagnosis made, the goal is to correct those deviations through pharmacology or surgery. Why those deviations occur is not the target of treatment. This scientific model was born five centuries ago. It is the predominant model in hospitals and health centers in the US and most first-world countries today.
MS through the Biomedical Model
Through this lens, MS is said to be caused by an overactive immune system. Macrophages activate T-cells to break through the blood-brain barrier, destroy myelin sheaths, and damage axons. It is unclear what triggers the immune system. To diagnose MS, neurologists must first rule out other diseases with similar symptoms. They then test for abnormalities in antibodies in the central nervous system or for myelin lesions. Diagnosis can be trickier still when a patient has unusual symptoms or a progressive form of MS. Biomedicine has no cure for MS. Interventions, instead, focus on suppressing the immune system to avoid causing further damage.
Mindbody Medical Model
Mindbody medicine brings our thoughts, beliefs, and history into disease etiology. Mindbody medicine reunites the mind with the body (separated 5 centuries ago through Descartes and later Newton). This reunion is not sentimental. Instead, the mind has returned to medicine because we now have scientific proof of its effects on the body: psychoneuroimmunology and epigenetics have demonstrated the molecular link between emotions and our cells. Thus mind-body medicine understands that disease shows up in the physical body, yet its cause can be biological, psychological, and social in nature (known as the biopsychosocial factors).
MS through the Mindbody Medical Model
By expanding our lens to include emotions, beliefs, and life history, mind-body medicine has discovered that people diagnosed with MS have more negative emotions, anxiety, depression, obsession, phobia, and tense interpersonal relationships when compared to the general population. People diagnosed with MS are much more prone to alexithymia (inability to express emotions) and have twice as much childhood trauma. Stress is demonstratively correlated to exacerbations in 85 to 90% of cases. In particular mild stressful life events are followed by exacerbations, while deeply stressful events might actually prevent them (for more details on this fascinating correlation, read Eva’s paper).
Thus through the mind-body medical lens, stress is a significant factor in the cause and progression of MS. Thus, stress management and treatments that address trauma, teach positive coping strategies, and increase social support, must accompany pharmacological and lifestyle interventions.
Tibetan Medical Model
In Tibetan Medicine, everything in life is energy. Therefore, the basic principle of healing becomes rebalancing the three main energies in our bodies. When these three energies are balances, we are healthy. When they are out of balance, we become ill.
These energies, Rlung, MKhrispa, and Bad Gen, can become imbalances through both mental and physical factors. The leading long-term cause of imbalance, and long-term disease, are mental. These mental causes are known as mental poisons. The short-term cause of illness is physical. These short-term factors are usually caused by unhealthy diet, lifestyle, seasonal influences, and spirit possession.
The three main mental poisons or ignorances that imbalance the three main energies, are desire, anger, and close-mindedness.
This energetic imbalance is related to the mental poison of greed, attachment, and desire. Overthinking, worrying, anxiety, craving what you don’t have, and not being content with what you do can create havoc in our rLung energy. This imbalance can cause movement disorders, digestive issues, insomnia, racing thoughts, and headaches. It can also lead to addiction.
This energetic imbalance is related to the mental poison of anger and judgment. High levels of this energy are caused by excessive competitiveness, constant stress, and no time for joy. This imbalance can lead to isolation and judgment of self and others. In addition, it can cause issues with body heat, inflammation, and metabolic or endocrine problems.
Bad Gen Imbalances
This energetic imbalance is related to the mental poison of delusion, confusion, and close-mindedness. Healthy levels allow us to think and the body to slow down and rest. Habits such as spending time enjoying family and friends restore the mind and balance this energy. Bad Gen, considered cold energy, balances Mkrispa, considered hot energy.
How Tibetan Medicine Treat and Diagnosis Disease
Diagnoses are achieved through tongue, urine, and pulse analysis accompanied by an extensive and empathetic interview. Treatment aims to rebalance the body’s energy. As the mind is the root cause of long-term disease, meditation is a big part of treatment. This is accompanied by lifestyle and diet. Physical therapies are only used as a last resort. This medical model emphasizes the need to treat the root cause first.
MS Through the Tibetan Medical Model
The three primary energies defined by Tibetan medicine correspond to the three types of myelin lipids – phospholipids, sphingolipids, and cholesterol. MS is considered a disease with excessive rLung and deficient Bad gen. MS exacerbations seem to be caused by elevated levels of Mkhrispa. These imbalances cause the myelin lipids that correspond to these energies to become abnormal. T-cells break the brain-blood barrier and attack myelin to rid them of abnormal cells (T-cells are supposed to clean out abnormalities!). Thus, the focus of Tibetan medicine would be to heal the myelin lipids by balancing our energy. This would avoid additional cell abnormalities. Thus, the physician would focus on helping the patient transform their thoughts, beliefs, diet, and lifestyle.
Consciousness Medical Model
The Consciousness medicine model expands upon Mindbody medicine to include quantum physics. In quantum physics, the mind is the building block that holds everything else together, including the material world and physical expression. Thus in consciousness medicine, our bodies reflect what is in our minds. This is supported not only by quantum physics but the ancient wisdom traditions of thousands of years ago. Thus, the root cause of chronic disease is no longer understood as a physical deviation in the body due to a mechanical breakdown but the manifestation of our psychological and spiritual wounding that distorts our understanding of the world and self. This distortion influences our physical bodies and can ultimately lead to physical disease and disorders. In this expanded medical model, consciousness is prioritized in both the cause of disease and its treatment.
MS Through the Consciousness Medical Model
This model understands that our lives, with their situations, attitudes, and beliefs, formed the premise of multiple sclerosis. Thus the goal is not to return to that previous life. Instead, the goal is to help transform the person beyond the level that created the MS. Treatment would include:
- working through trauma and negative beliefs about self and the world
- reconnecting to self, to joy, and spirit
- cultivating a positive mindset
- resolving conflicts
- removing oneself from toxic situations
- healing unhealthy attachments
- and creating a healthy (spiritually, mentally, and physically) environment for healing.