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24.7.11

Adventures In Acupuncture VII

This is part 7 of an on-going series of articles about the use of acupuncture in treating the effects of multiple sclerosis, especially blindness.  See Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 herepart 4 herePart 5 here, and Part 6 here.  The standard Western medical approach gave no hope for recovery, and the use of life-long drugs (with distasteful side-effects) offered a ‘possible’ protection from further attacks.

Well, we're back again.  Last week, I knocked the LFS Mombo offline trying to setup a W7 network.  I actually had to get a new netbook just to stay in touch, while I was poking and prodding around in the network settings.  I discovered that it's damned hard to change WPA2 keys, once you've established them.  At least it is for blind caveman who are adapting to the 21st century.  But, that's another column...

At any rate, I want to thank all the readers who have been sending in scads of information on alternative medicine and MS.  It's been very helpful, provided hours of research material and given me some new leads.  I'll share some of it further down the page.

To catch everyone up, I went stark, raving blind a couple of years ago, due to previously unknown MS.  The attack felt like the onset of severe flu.  My energy level and strength dropped precipitously, such that I had to lie down.  Within five minutes, my vision started to get overexposed, and over 24 hours, went completely black.  Blood tests showed only a slight elevation in uric acid, but otherwise perfectly normal.  Heart rate and BP were, as always for me, textbook normal.

I spent a month on IV and oral prednisone, which restored about 75% of my vision, save for the inside half of my right eye, which has been completely offline since then.

Over the intervening time, my color vision slowly faded and my ability to focus at a distance was going fast.  In addition, I lost sensation in the tops of my feet and the middle three toes on both feet.  There were random muscle spasms and intermittent burning sensations in my lower legs.  Occasionally, my right arm would lose strength and I've had bad tinnitus in my right ear.  In all, the right side appears to be worse than the left, and I am left-dominant for things like writing and drawing, though I'm ambidexterous in many other things, such as throwing a ball or playing golf.

The standard western approach to my condition was to offer a life-time of expensive pill-popping with nasty side-effects that wouldn't cure or restore, and only offered the possibility of no further attacks.

I waved that off, needless to say.  I wasn't willing to give up conjugal gymnastics for a "maybe."

My wife, being the head of a large vitamin and supplement distributor here, makes sure that I rattle every morning on the way to the office.  She also pumps me full of fesh-made carrot and fruit juice every morning and makes sure that I don't get into an MSG, aspertame or cassava root, which is very popular in these parts.  Those things have rather dramatic effects on me vision, which I discovered by trial and error.  It takes about 24 hours to clean my system and return to 'normal' if I happen to ingest them.  In fact, the cassava (known as singkong locally) causes everything to look like the stained-glass effect in PhotoShop.  The other two just case things to get very dark.

Given this background, I proceeded to investigate herbal and other non-traditional (read pharma) treaments and remedies.  For instance, I found that a certain home remedy, known generally as jamu, helped the burning sensation in my legs and feet.


Jamu refers to any number of local herbals for different ailments.  It's generally sold by women who carry a large basket of bottles on their backs, with a variety of extracts, such as mustard and cinnamon and menthol.  You tell them what you want, and they whip up a concoction mixed with hot water that you drink.

By now, you have the idea that I'm willing to try just about anything once.

Before I get into acupuncture, I'll tell you why I chose it.  Our nerves have a fatty insulation on them called myellin.  For some reason, no one knows why for sure, the body's immune system suddenly turns on the myellin and eats holes in it.  This has the twin effect of shorting out parts of the nerve and leaving 'plaques' or 'sclera' that block signals from passing.  In the early stages, the effects are most noticeable in the senses, because they are the most sensitive.  However, later on, many people become wheelchair- or bed-bound, as the motor nerves slowly deteriorate.  Many folks have a lot of pain, such as cramping in the lower back and legs, as well as other unpleasant and annoying problems.

MS is poorly understood.  Many folks who have it, also have a genetic marker on the sixth chromosome, and there is evident of familial preference.  But, it doesn't appear to be a genetic trigger that sets it off.  There's some speculation about various environmental triggers, a lot of which centers around the many herpes viri. Most research shows a probable mix of genetic pre-disposition and environmental trigger.

This led me to look at herpes zoster, a very common virus and one that most people have.  It's the cause of chicken pox, and can also cause things like shingles.  When you get chicken pox, you never get rid of the virus.  It lies dormant (in most people) around nerve endings.  For the most part, people don't ever deal with it after the initial infection.  However, some develop shingles, which break out on a periodic basis.

My theory, and I stess this is my theory, is that the body suddenly decides it doesn't like the virus again and attacks.  Being that the virus collects on nerve endings, it makes sense that the nerves would be damaged in the process.  Furthermore, since there's no pill-popping cure for any of the herpes viri, it makes sense that they can't fix the problem.

Thus, my approach is two-fold.  To repair or, at minimum, restore some, of the nerve damage, I chose acupuncture, since it works directly on the nervous system.  My theory is that by stimulating the nerves directly, it will encourage new connections and work-arounds to the current blocks, and possibly stimulate regeneration (theoretically possible).

The second part is to find some herbal/supplemental/voodoo that works directly on the virus.  By eliminating it, I surmise that it would prevent future attacks and deterioration.  The point being that stopping at 30% vision is better than 0%.

I have no convenient way of knowing, at this time, whether the attack on the virus itself is successful, other than waiting 10 or 15 years to see if things get worse.  On the other hand, I can readily test, both objectively and subjectively, whether my efforts to restore the nerves is successful.

I've devised tests using the SMPTE color and alignment charts for testing color, contrast and sharpness of my vision.  I also have several subjective tests for the various other effects.  Since the problems involve the senses, it is difficult to be objective without a bunch of expensive machinery.

After 14 acupuncture treatments, I can say without hesitation that it has improved my color and contrast vision.  I can see red/green again, albeit better with saturated colors.  The more subtle pastels are still lost, though I can begin to perceive a little pink and light green in my peripheral vision.  Blue/yellow is very strong, with a fair range of hues available.

The brightness of my eyes has improved.  I can see more shades of gray, which helps me with things like depth perception.  Because the inside half my right eye is blank, it plays hell with 3-D perception.  I have to use parallax error to determine distance with many things.  Having better contrast helps me see more subtle details, like stair steps or bumps in the pavement.  Going down stairs is terrifying, since they all look flat to me.  Going up isn't as bad, since the light/dark areas help me see the steps, and falling up stairs is not as fearful as falling down them.

Before treatment, I had one small area in my left central vision that was incredibly sharp, but black-and-white.  I now have several of those spots scattered across my field of view, which is quite annoying since it makes it hard to focus at a distance.  The inside half of my right eye is starting to open up.  The central focusing area is still black, but around that I can see bright light and stark contrast, as well as detect movement.

If these improvements keep up, I will go back to the eye clinic for some more specific tests to compare to the baseline a couple of years ago.

My sense of balance is improving.  Using various tests like head back-touch the nose, standing on one foot, and tip-toes, I can say that I feel more in control.  There are still times when I can stand on a solid, flat surface, though, and it still feels like it moves under me.

The tinnitus is greatly reduced.  Previously, my right ear literally screamed, while the left was a bit more subdued.  Now, the left is nearly quiet, while the right varies from low to medium, depending on stress, coffee levels, etc.  By the way, large doses of aspirin will cause ringing in your ears.  Just something to store away for later.

The leg spasms are virtually gone, as is the burning sensation.  Before starting treatment, I had many nights without sleep because the situation was annoying at best, and painful at worst.

Using course (100 grain) sandpaper, the tips of my toes were completely insensate when I started treatment.  I can now clearly feel the grit, as well as the texture of 180 grain.  Some days, I have somewhat independent movement of each toe, which means I can feel the individual digits enough to be able to isolate the muscle groups.  There is still some tingling in the tops of my feet, but not nearly what it was.

Another test is to place pressure on the fingernail of my right hand, and then try to lift my finger.  Previously, that could cause uncontrolled twitching and tremors in my right arm.  That has been reduced, and is sometimes gone altogether.

As for the treatment itself, I won't say it's painless.  Certainly, when the sin she puts the needles in, if she misses the nerve, it's like getting a shot.  If she hits the nerve, it's what she calls ngilu, which translates as "smarts," but the sensation is like a mild form of whacking your funny bone.  Also, the points on the back of my head cause shivers to run through to my finger and toe tips.  It's what the old folks say is 'someone stepping on your grave.'

It can also be fairly painful if I'm not relaxed, which ain't easy when someone is stabbing your nerves with 16 needles.  I tend to close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and try not to anticipate the stab.  Surprisingly, the ones that hurt the least are the four that go deep into my eye sockets, above and below the eye balls.  The ones in my temples hurt quite a bit if I flex my face muscles in any way, shape or form.  The ones in my ankles burn a little, but not quite what I'd call painful, unless I move my foot just right...then my skeleton tries to climb out my nose.

Side-effects?  The insertion points tend to be a bit tender, especially on weeks where I can squeeze in three treatments.  I'm supposed to rub the points several times a day, which actually has the same effect as the treatments.  If the needles touch any part of the muscles, then the electric jolts cause those muscles to jump rhythmically with the jolts.  If I am sweating, then the electric jolts short out across my skin and is rather not pleasant.  So try to be dry when you do this.  Other than that, there's not much to complain about.  In fact, one side effect is an increase in my randy-meter, which my wife finds rather enjoyable.  I'll leave it at that.

I'm still receiving the herbal poultaces once a week, though I'm not closer to understanding the ingredients than the 38th time the sin she explained it.  I can only tell you that they are about the size of a wad of chewing gum, brown and semi-flexible, and reek of eucalyptus oil.  I get eight of them on my back, six around my shoulder blades, and one each over the kidneys.  She pokes me with a needle to open the skin before taping them on.  Taking them off is the most unpleasant part of the whole ordeal, since I have a generous amount of fur back there.

Do I recommend it?  Stopping short of giving medical advice, I'll say that it is definitely worth looking into for a variety of complaints.  The folks I see at the clinic come for everything from weight loss and face lifts, to stroke and cognitive problems, and all of them claim varying degrees of success.

So...miracle cure?  No, at least not yet.  I can say that there have been both objective and subjective improvements in all areas affected.  I can say without qualification that acupuncture does have an effect and that my side-effects are minor, and some are even positive.  My basic test is, if it doesn't hurt anything, then it's 50% good.  The rest is relative.

Stay tuned...
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Here are some links to info that may be useful to those needing more.  A lot of it is relevant to any neurological problem, not just MS (deep thanks to everyone for sending in info!):

Pacific College of Oriental Medicine - Good folks and very helpful re: acupuncture
Herpes Zoster
Viral MS found in monkeys
Use of sound in healing
Various links of varying usefulness
Coconut Oil - From my buddy Harry in Bali
One reader sent some good info on ytterbium and boron use in PDF format - drop an email with the subject MS ARTICLE and I'll pass it along to you

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