Muscular Dystrophy

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a collective term for a range of neuromuscular conditions. It is characterised by the progressive weakening and wasting of muscles. The most common form of the condition is known as Duchenne MD, which only affects males. Sufferers of this form eventually lose the ability to walk, usually between the ages of eight and 11. Other forms of MD can be less severe, progress more slowly and affect men and women equally.

What are the Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy?

The degree of muscle weakness depends on the type of MD. When the condition develops in childhood, symptoms include floppiness as a baby or difficulty standing up and walking as a toddler. The weakness usually gets worse over time. Boys with Duchenne MD show a difficulty in walking between the ages of one and three. They eventually lose the ability to walk, usually between the ages of eight and 11.

What are the Causes of Muscular Dystrophy?

MD is caused by a defect in the gene which makes up the muscles. If a person has this defect, they can pass it on to their children. Depending on the way it is inherited, the children may then develop MD or may simply be a carrier of the gene. MD has been known to develop where there is no known family history of it. It is thought that in such cases, there is a spontaneous mutation of the gene. Duchenne MD is known to result from a defect in a single important protein in muscles called dystrophin.

Traditional Medical Treatments for Muscular Dystrophy

There is currently no cure for MD, therefore the main aim of treatment is to make the quality of life as good as possible for a person with the condition. Gentle exercise is recommended and physiotherapy can help to prevent the development of contractures (thickening and scarring of muscle and connective tissue resulting in deformity of a joint). Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) can develop and in such cases, surgery may be beneficial. The use of electric wheelchairs means that people with MD can still be mobile and maintain independence. In the latter stages of some types of MD, including Duchenne MD, respiratory problems may develop. For this reason, it is recommended that any chest infections are treated immediately and people with MD and those around them should not smoke. In severe cases, assisted ventilation may be required. A nasal tube or face mask may be used but eventually a tracheostomy may be considered for some people. (A tracheostomy is a surgical operation in which a hole is made into the trachea through the neck to relieve obstruction to breathing.)

Complementary/Alternative Treatments for Muscular Dystrophy

Regular massage is important for reducing spasm and muscle contractions. Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to get your problem diagnosed before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 – 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 – 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 – 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted. Green tea ( Camellia sinensis ) standardized extract, 250 – 500 mg daily, for antioxidant and immune effects. Use caffeine-free products. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb. Rhodiola ( Rhodiola rosea ) standardized extract, 100 – 600 mg daily, for antioxidant, antistress, and immune activity.