Medical Treatments

Neurologist: Alternative Therapies for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Don't Work

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Many families of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers spend thousands of dollars on alternative treatments for these illnesses – but do they really work?

The Chicago Tribune hosted a web chat last week with Dr. Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptics’ Society, and produces a weekly podcast called The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

Dr. Novella debunked many alternative treatments for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s: guests asked about topics ranging from scientific research on dancing tango to aspartame’s effect on diseases like multiple sclerosis. Dr. Novella said that exercise as a whole is beneficial to sufferers, but “there is no reason to think there is anything special about tango or even dancing in general.” As for the dangers of aspartame, he called it “basically an Internet urban legend. There is no evidence to suggest it is harmful or causes MS.”

Dr. Novella’s skeptical perspective on alternative medicine made itself especially apparent when he answered a question on whether there are any alternative therapies that have been shown to be effective for neurological disorders. “The answer is a clear no for anything really alternative, like homeopathy, acupuncture, energy medicine and the like.” He did say, however, that he doesn’t consider diet and exercise modifications to fall into the category of alternative medicine, but that they can only be helpful, and are not miracle cures.

Stem cell treatment, Dr. Novella said, should be approached with extra caution: there’s no evidence that these therapies work at all for motor neuron diseases. He warned against clinics offering stem cell therapy outside of clinical trials.

He summed up his position on alternative medicine as follows: “’Evidence-based alternative treatments’" is an oxymoron. If they are truly evidence-based they are not alternative.” If therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders are not grounded in scientific research, he said, they are not worth risking.

Originally published at GrannyMed