Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Why a Canadian is Excited about the U.S. Army
When I was diagnosed with MS I asked my docs about supplements or a specific diet that might help. I was told that the typical low fat high, fiber route was the way to go, that there was little in the scientific literature to support one diet or another. My family doc recommended that I use sunflower seed oil when cooking, as that oil might aid with the regrowth of myelin that had been destroyed. As far as other supplements and vitamins go, I sometimes take vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, as I know for a fact I don't get enough of those in my regular diet and living in the Northern hemisphere I am robbed of any helpful sunlight for several months of the year. I also take fish oil and Vitamin C, only during the winter.
I used to go for massage therapy on a fairly regular basis, as we have two schools in my city that offer "neuro clinics" conducted by students, so they're inexpensive. And the students are supervised. I stopped going when I felt the benefit for me was no longer what it used to be. I will go from time to time as the need arises. I am also embarking on a regime of yoga to supplement my biking as exercise.
I am not a proponent of CAM, complimentary and alternative medicine, as there has not been enough scientific study of these methods of treatment. (Please don't send me links to "studies" by people or companies that have investigated their own product. They are not unbiased.) But, if you have a large study conducted by a reputable organization or institution, with a large sample size, large control group, and reproducable results, then let's talk. It's not that I don't believe that some of these treatments have merit. It just hasn't been demonstrated yet. I would be the first one to jump on the bandwagon if something worked. If you use CAMs and they work for you, then good. For you.
Today, I read an article from Wired magazine. In it, the author details plans the U.S. Army has of offering money to researchers who study alternative therapies and treatments for trauma spectrum disorders including Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am excited about this. Why? Well, first of all, the Defense Department "is dedicated to supporting evidence-based approaches to medical treatment and wants to support the use of alternative therapies if they are proven efficacious," notes a recently-issued request for proposals. One way or another the U. S. Army may be able to put to rest claims of CAM success or they may disprove those claims. What is the Army's bias? They want their personnel to be treated with something that works and possibly to be put back in an active role. They are willing to spend the money to find out if something works, whether it's transcendental meditation or art therapy or nutritional supplements to improve cognitive functioning.
Secondly, medical science progresses in spurts, and we are at the beginning of another spurt with the war in Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan, and the numerous other fights going on these days. Every time there is a major conflict on this planet we find new ways of injuring each other. As a result, military docs are on the forefront of treating the "new" casualties. The treatments they devise get passed along to the general public. After World War 1, the field of plastic surgery progressed very quickly. Men were returning from war, missing huge parts of their faces or bodies. As a result of the wounds that surgeons were facing, they developed new techniques of repair for the soldiers that were then applied to civilians. The docs fixed 'em, or tried to, then we civilians reaped the benefits.
What benefits could there be for people like me, with MS? In the past, the study of the effects of injury has greatly increased our knowledge of how a body part is supposed to work. Traumatic brain injuries of soldiers may give us more insight into how our brain recovers and rewires, which is directly related to MS, stroke, and other neurological conditions. Unknowingly, soldiers will be contributing to our wealth of knowledge about function. And they will also contribute to our knowledge of treatment of dysfunction.
The Army will be allocating $4 million for these studies. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a lot. But let's say 20 studies are approved and out of those 20, 3 are found to be quite promising. Those 3 would then be investigated further and so on. Perhaps the Army will discover a type of effective treatment previously dismissed because of inadequate research. I look forward to their findings, because we civilians will be the lucky recipients of the results. After the soldiers, of course.
The image at the top of this post is the insignia of 1st Special Service Force, aka the Devil's Brigade, a joint US-Canada commando unit during WW2. My Uncle Willie was a member of this unit. He also suffered a stroke after the war while he was an army phys ed instructor. He recovered completely and only passed away last year at the age of 85. I need to post a blog on him alone one of these days.