Q I have a friend with muscular dystrophy. He is a young man who developed the disease in the last five years. What can he do to halt the inevitable deterioration? - Sheila Swift, via e-mail
A Muscular dystrophy is a progressive degeneration of the muscles. It is thought to be incurable and irreversible, usually ending in death before the age of 30.
The drug most commonly prescribed is prednisone, a corticosteroid that comes with a raft of dangerous side-effects.
The best treatment is nutritional therapy with a wholefood diet that is rich in essential fatty acids, while avoiding saturated fats, refined foods and all known allergens.
Several alternative remedies offer help and relief from symptoms. Coenzyme Q10 (100 mg/day or as much as 300-400 mg/day) can relieve tiredness and improve physical capacity (Biochim Biophys Acta, 1995; 1271: 281-6).
Another supplement is creatine, a dietary supplement used by athletes to improve muscle strength and increase muscle mass. At the prestigious McMaster University in Canada, muscular dystrophy sufferers were given 5-10 g/day of creatine. Just a five-day course 'significantly' increased muscle strength (Neurology, 1999; 52: 854-7). But be alert to possible weight gain due to water retention (Clin J Sport Med, 1998; 8: 298-304), and also to depression.
Supplements should include essential fatty acids (flax or fish oils of 1000-1500 mg), vitamin E (400-800 IU), magnesium (500 mg), possibly calcium (1000 mg), selenium (up to 200 mcg) and B vitamins (100 mg of B6 and 1000 mcg of B12, but only under medical supervision). The B vitamin pantothenic acid has also been shown to increase muscle energy metabolism in animal studies (Biochem J, 1994; 304: 649-54), as have high doses (the equivalent of seven cups a day) of green tea (Am J Clin Nutr, 2002; 75: 749-53). However, be aware that these results may not be applicable to humans.
Check for carnitine deficiency, which causes the body to be unable to use long-chain fatty acids as energy.
The best homoeopathic remedies are Arnica, Calcarea carbonica and Magnesia phosphorica, for muscle pain and spasms. As for herbs, try horsetail, nettles, kelp, black cohosh or cramp bark (for muscle cramp), or Jamaica dogwood.
Finally, royal jelly and propolis from bees fed on thyme are said to halt deterioration in nearly half of patients - a claim as yet not supported by research.