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MS patient credits orthomolecular medicine for ending painful attacks

September 25, 2009

Since he was a teenager, Peter Leeds has suffered painful attacks that render his hands and feet crippled and numb.
He had no idea he has multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that plagues the central nervous system, leading to physical and cognitive disabilities.
"I'd wake up and my toes and fingers would be numb," he said. "The numbness would creep up my legs, creep up my arms, until it took me over, making me numb from the neck down."
Suffering attacks at least once a year, it wasn't until four years ago, when Leeds was 31 years old, that he was diagnosed with MS.
Shortly after, as Leeds lay sobbing on the floor, his wife asked him if he was going to die.
He couldn't answer. He didn't know anything about the prognosis or treatments.
Leeds, a Toronto resident, has benign relapse-remitting MS, which is characterized by unpredictable, yet clear, attacks.
Symptoms can begin to appear over a few hours or days, and last for days or months. Between attacks, the body can recover almost completely.
Though there is no known cause or cure for MS, there are five federally approved therapies that have been proven to diminish the frequency and severity of attacks, according to Stewart Wong, national senior manager at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
"They have huge benefits," he said. "Some slow down the progression, others reduce the number of brain lesions. They really improve your quality of life."
With all the benefits, however, come a number of adverse side-effects mood changes, digestive problems or hepatitis in very rare circumstances.
Leeds, then a father of one, said he was also told the treatments might make him unable to father any more children.
"It wasn't worth it," he said. "All the side-effects were too frightening."
Not wanting to suffer through adverse side-effects, yet not wanting to continue living with constant fatigue, bowel problems and loss of sensation brought on by his MS, Leeds found himself at a dead end.
But a close friend suggested an alternative approach.
On the advice of the friend, Leeds travelled to Victoria to meet with Dr. Abram Hoffer, an orthomolecular practitioner, who died in May.
Hoffer was a Canadian psychiatrist best known for treating psychological disorders through orthomolecular medicine a science-based approach to healing and preventing disease.
Treatments use nutrients naturally found in the body essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Scared, and skeptical, Leeds walked into Hoffer's office, and told the doctor he had MS.
"He looked at me," Leeds said. "And he says, 'so what?' "
Orthomolecular practitioners believe many illnesses result from an imbalance of nutrients.
Hoffer gave Leeds a list of supplements; within the month, the numbness in Leeds' limbs was going away.
In four years, Leeds says he hasn't had a single attack.
A neurologist who has followed Leeds since the diagnosis, told him she wouldn't have known he had MS were it not for the old scans.
Jonathan Prousky, chief naturopathic medical officer at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, said there isn't one treatment for every patient.
But, he said, there's an opportunity for people suffering from anything cardiovascular disease, depression, PMS or even cancer to be treated with orthomolecular medicine.
"Our goal is to alleviate suffering," he said. "I never tell anybody I can cure them, but that their quality of life can be vastly improved."
Prousky acknowledged some patients must take pharmaceuticals. "And no credible orthomolecular practitioner would advise an asthmatic, for example, to stop using an inhaler," he said.
"But the two methods can work together," he said, noting that chemo patients can use supplements to help curb decreased appetites that result from mouth and throat sores associated with the treatment.
Leeds' regimen includes mega doses of vitamins C and D, salmon oil, niacin, folic acid, zinc and semi-weekly shots of vitamin B-12. He also avoids all caffeine and dairy products.
Because every patient follows a different regimen, it is hard to put a price tag on the treatment. Steven Carter, managing editor of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, said a patient shouldn't pay more that $150 per month, or about $2,000 per year.
Federally approved treatments can cost $20,000 to $40,000 per year, but some will be reimbursed.
Wong from the MS Society said the amount returned to the patient varies by province and insurance company, but in most cases government assistance is available.
Though the cost of supplements might act as a deterrent to orthomolecular medicine, Prousky said patients should consider more than just what comes out of the wallet.
"Pharmaceuticals can cost a lot more in the long run," he said. "Sometimes a patient can't work, or their family life crumbles. . . . They're not the person they were before."
Leeds can't imagine his life without orthomolecular medicine. He went from fearing death to having two more children with his wife of 11 years.
But he didn't hear about this option from his physician, nor was it listed as one of Health Canada's approved treatments.
Wong said what's important is having options.
"Talk with your family, physician and neurologist," he said. "Choose the treatment you're most comfortable with."

Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
The Vancouver Sun



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