Natural Muscular Dystrophy Treatment and Underlying Causes
Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of more than 30 genetic disorders or muscle-wasting conditions that involve the progressive weakness and degeneration of muscles. MD leads to the loss of muscle mass and strength over time. While there are nine distinct types of muscular dystrophy, myotonic MD is the most common among adults. What’s more, while some types are severe and affect young boys, others strike in adulthood and follow a very slow progressive course over decades. As the condition progresses, it becomes more difficult to move over time. Symptoms of muscular dystrophy include delayed muscle relaxation after contraction and weakness in the arms, legs, and facial muscles. In some cases, heart function and breathing can also be affected. Natural muscular dystrophy treatment options are available.
Interested in using cannabis as an alternative treatment? Get your cannabis card with a licensed physician.
Underlying Causes of Muscular Dystrophy
Muscular dystrophy is an X-linked disease caused by gene mutations, which means it is passed down from the mothers. However, there are over 30 different types of MD, and each type is caused by a different set of mutations that prevent the body from producing the protein dystrophin.
This protein is critical to the building and repairing of muscles. It allows muscles to work properly by anchoring muscle cell components together and linking them to the outer membrane. Deformed or absent dystrophin causes disruptions to the outer membrane, causing muscle weakness and damage to muscle cells.
Natural Muscular Dystrophy Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, nor is there a way to prevent or reverse the condition. Muscular Dystrophy Treatment can focus on improving quality of life and delaying the progression and severity of symptoms. If you have muscular dystrophy, finding the right treatment regimen can help maintain your physical and emotional health while prolonging your ability to walk.
While drug therapies and surgeries are available, many natural therapies can also help manage symptoms.
Medical cannabis is an approved treatment option for muscular dystrophy in many states, which has helped many patients find relief from chronic pain, cramps, and muscle spasms. It is a particularly good alternative if you are looking to avoid using opioids for chronic long-term pain. Because MD is considered a degenerative disease, it gets worse over time. Medical cannabis can help keep you as comfortable and pain-free for as long as possible to improve your quality of life.
Book an appointment with Heally to talk to a licensed physician online. A consultation with a physician is the first step to getting your medical marijuana card.
Top Recommended CBD Products for Muscular Dystrophy
If medical cannabis isn’t legal in your state or if MD is not a qualifying condition, consider finding pain relief through the use of CBD products. CBD is hemp-derived and non-psychoactive. While it contains many of the same medicinal properties as medical cannabis, it’s legal nationwide and can be shipped to your door.
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Stretching and range-of-motion exercises can help slow down the progression of shortening tendons and the inevitable inward movement of the limbs. These types of exercises can help keep limbs mobile for a longer period of time, preventing them from getting fixed in position.
Further, walking, swimming, and other low-impact aerobic exercises can also help slow the progression of MD. Exercises should be light in nature but undertaken frequently, ideally 5 times a week.
Nutrition and Supplements
Eating a healthy diet of whole foods can help you get the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal muscle health. Supplements can also help reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies. The following vitamins and minerals are recommended for MD. However, you should always consult with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
- Calcium and vitamin D : Both help support muscle and skeletal weakness.
- Coenzyme Q10 : This supplement is often taken for muscular support.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine : This supplement contains muscle-protective properties.
- Amino acids: Glutamine and arginine are both important amino acids for muscle protection. Research shows that amino acids can help inhibit whole-body protein degradation.
- Creatine : When deemed appropriate, another amino acid known as creatine can be added to improve muscle weakness and wasting. Creatine helps provide energy to the muscle cells.
- Green tea : Research indicates that the antioxidant properties found in green tea may be able to help protect against the muscle wasting associated with MD.
Homeopathic remedies for muscular dystrophy may include Arnica for muscle pain and spasm relief, Calcarea carbonica for lower extremity cramps, and Magnesia phos for muscle pain and spasms, shooting pains, and cramps.
Getting massages on a regular basis can help reduce muscle contractions and spasms while helping you naturally manage the pain of muscle weakness, stiffness, and degeneration. Further, massages can help improve your range of motion by relaxing contracted and tight muscles. In turn, muscle function and mobility may improve.
Thai massage, in particular, is often recommended to stretch the body and relieve muscle tension. Stretching can help maintain the elasticity and length of muscles while also increasing the flexibility of your joints.
Interested in more natural remedies for muscular dystrophy? Book a telehealth appointment to talk to a functional medicine doctor online.
What Is Muscular Dystrophy? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More
Muscular dystrophy is a group of more than 30 inherited conditions that cause progressive muscle weakness and loss. Some forms of muscular dystrophy are diagnosed in infancy or childhood, while the symptoms of others may not start until early or even late adulthood.
The different types of muscular dystrophy vary in terms of when symptoms start (in infancy, childhood, or adulthood), who they affect (men, women, or both), which muscles they affect, and what their symptoms are. But all forms of muscular dystrophy become increasingly worse, or progress — meaning that your muscles get weaker the longer you live with the condition.
As a result, most people with muscular dystrophy eventually lose the ability to walk and must use a wheelchair to get around. Still, some people with the condition have mild cases that progress slowly, while others experience symptoms that quickly become severe and disabling.
At present, there’s no cure for muscular dystrophy, although certain treatments — including physical and speech therapy, assistive orthopedic devices, surgery, and prescription medications — can help to slow progression, control some symptoms, and reduce risk for complications. (1)
Types of Muscular Dystrophy
Each type of muscular dystrophy has some unique characteristics. The following are the major types of the disease. (2)
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
The most common and severe form of muscular dystrophy among children, primarily boys, is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD accounts for more than half of all cases of muscular dystrophy among children, and it’s caused by lack of or dysfunction of dystrophin, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).
Dystrophin is a protein that helps strengthen muscle fibers and protect them from injury.
Children who have DMD usually experience weakness initially in their upper legs and pelvis. Symptoms include frequent falls, difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position, appearing to waddle when walking, having difficulty running or jumping, and having enlarged calf muscles from scar tissue buildup and replacement of muscle with fat tissue.
DMD typically appears between ages 3 and 5 and progresses rapidly. Most children with DMD are unable to walk by age 12 and may eventually need a respirator to breathe. (3)
More About Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
What Is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy?
Life With Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Gene Therapy for Duchenne
Becker Muscular Dystrophy
Another form of muscular dystrophy caused by dystrophin deficiency is the Becker type. Becker muscular dystrophy has symptoms similar to those of DMD, but they tend to be milder and to appear later in life — usually between ages 11 and 25, although it can also appear much later. Like DMD, it occurs primarily in boys and men.
Some people with Becker may never need to use a wheelchair, while others lose the ability to walk during their teens or later. (4)
Myotonic dystrophy is the most common adult form of the condition. In general, it causes an inability to relax the muscles following a contraction, and can also cause swallowing difficulties, drooping eyelids, cataracts and other vision problems, baldness at the front of the scalp in men, weakness of the facial muscles, weight loss, increased sweating, fatigue, infertility, and impotence.
Myotonic dystrophy appears in one of two types, type 1 and type 2, abbreviated DM1 and DM2. Both are caused by abnormally expanded sections of DNA, but in different genes. Nonetheless, the mutations cause similar effects on the body.
Type 1 myotonic dystrophy is more common and usually more severe, although it can also appear in a “mild” form. Symptoms of both DM1 and DM2 usually start in a person’s twenties or thirties. (5,6,7)
Congenital Muscular Dystrophy
Congenital muscular dystrophy is a rare form of the condition that typically begins to appear in children age 2 or younger. It affects both boys and girls, and those children who have it often require support to sit or stand and may never learn to walk.
Some children with congenital muscular dystrophy die in infancy, but others live into adulthood with only mild disability. Although there are more than 30 subtypes of congenital muscular dystrophy, roughly half of all cases in the United States are caused by a defect in or lack of the protein merosin, which surrounds muscle fibers, according to the MDA.
This form is called merosin-deficient congenital muscular dystrophy, or MDC1A.
When congenital muscular dystrophy is caused by defects in other proteins, it may also affect the central nervous system.
Infants with this type of muscular dystrophy will have problems with motor function and muscle control that appear at birth or during infancy; develop chronic shortening of muscles or tendons around joints, called contractures, which prevent joints from moving freely; develop scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine); have breathing and swallowing problems; have foot deformities; and have intellectual disabilities. (8)
Another type of muscular dystrophy is facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). Facioscapulohumeral refers to the areas affected by this type: the face (facio), shoulders (scapulo), and upper arms (humeral).
The genetic defect that causes FSHD remains unknown. The condition typically affects teens, although it may appear in adults up to age 40. It often appears first in the eyes and mouth.
People with FSHD may have difficulty opening and shutting their eyes or be unable to smile or pucker their lips. Other symptoms may include muscle wasting that causes the shoulders to appear slanted, impaired reflexes in the biceps and triceps, and difficulty swallowing, chewing, or speaking, as well as hearing loss.
The condition may also cause a curvature in the spine called lordosis. (9)
Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy affects both males and females, usually once they reach adolescence or young adulthood. Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy can progress quickly or slowly, but most people with the condition become severely disabled because of muscle damage and may be unable to walk within 20 years of being diagnosed.
Different types of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy are caused by different gene mutations, but in general, people with the condition inherit a defective copy of a gene from one parent, or, in the more severe form, two copies of the defective gene, one from each parent. People with either form first develop weakness around their hips.
This weakness usually spreads to the shoulders, legs, and neck. As a result, people with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy fall frequently and have difficulty getting up from chairs, climbing stairs, or carrying things.
They may also appear to waddle when they walk or have a rigid spine. (10)
Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy
Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy can appear in childhood or adulthood, and can progress quickly or slowly. It causes a combination of joint contractures, muscle weakness, and heart problems.
The contractures typically affect the elbows, joints of the neck, ankles, and heels, and the muscle weakness and atrophy usually starts in the shoulders, upper arms, and calves.
One type of heart problem that is characteristic of Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy is called a conduction block, in which the rhythm of the heartbeat is disrupted, because the electrical impulses don’t communicate properly between the heart’s upper and lower chambers. A conduction block can lead to breathlessness, fainting, and even to sudden cardiac arrest. It can be treated with insertion of a pacemaker.
People with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy may also develop another type of heart problem called cardiomyopathy, a disease that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Emery-Dreifuss occurs most commonly in males, but girls and women who carry a genetic mutation that causes it may have heart conduction defects and muscle weakness. (11,12,13)
Distal Muscular Dystrophies
Distal muscular dystrophies refer to a group of diseases that affect the distal muscles — those of the forearms, hands, lower legs, and feet, according to the MDA. They are caused by defects in a protein called dysferlin and can occur in both men and women, and usually in adults between ages 40 and 60.
Distal muscular dystrophy tends to be less severe and progress more slowly than other forms of the condition, but it can spread to other muscles. People with this form of muscular dystrophy may be unable to move their hands and extend their fingers, and they have trouble walking and climbing stairs.
They may also develop breathing problems as the condition progresses and need a ventilator to maintain oxygen flow, the MDA says. (14)
Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy
Finally, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy occurs in both men and women — usually in their forties or fifties — and is particularly common among Americans of French Canadian ancestry, individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and Hispanics from the Southwest region of the United States.
Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy can be mild or severe. It may cause drooping eyelids and other vision problems, swallowing problems, and muscle wasting and weakness in the neck, shoulders, and limbs. People with this form of muscular dystrophy may also develop heart problems and lose their ability to walk. (15)
Signs and Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy
The signs and symptoms of muscular dystrophy, and their severity, vary from one type of the disease to another and from one individual to another. And while the symptoms of all types of muscular dystrophy progress, or get worse, over time, the pace at which that happens also varies from type to type and person to person. It may also depend on the age at which a person is diagnosed and first receives treatment. For some types of muscular dystrophy, drug treatments can slow symptom progression somewhat.
While each person with muscular dystrophy is unique, some of the most common signs of symptoms of the disease include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty walking
- Frequent falling
- Difficulty getting up from a lying or sitting position
- Limited movement at certain joints (called contracture)
- Heart problems
- Problems with breathing and swallowing
- Muscle pain or stiffness
Some forms of muscular dystrophy are also associated with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and cognitive impairments. For example, some forms of congenital muscular dystrophy are associated with significant learning disabilities and mental retardation.
In addition, Duchenne muscular dystrophy has been associated with lower verbal IQ, language delays, and deficits in working memory, attention, and executive function, among other problems. Some individuals with Duchenne are diagnosed with ADHD or autism because of these cognitive issues before it is recognized that they have a form of muscular dystrophy that accounts for their symptoms. But it’s important to note that such cognitive problems are not seen universally, and many people with Duchenne excel academically and in the workplace. (16)
Causes and Risk Factors of Muscular Dystrophy
Muscular dystrophy is caused by genetic mutations that interfere with the production of proteins needed to build and maintain healthy muscles.
The most common forms of muscular dystrophy are caused by a mutation on the X chromosome influencing production of a protein called dystrophin, while other types of muscular dystrophy have their own set of unique genetic mutations, affecting the production of other proteins.
But even within one type of muscular dystrophy, different individuals may have different genetic mutations, leading to similar, but not identical, symptoms.
In most cases, the genetic mutations that cause muscular dystrophy run in families and are passed from parents to children. However, for some types of muscular dystrophy, you have to inherit two copies of a mutated gene, one from each parent, to have the disease; this is called an autosomal recessive inherited disorder. (The word “autosomal” means the gene in question is located on one of the autosomes, the numbered pairs of chromosomes that don’t affect a person’s sex.)
For other types of muscular dystrophy, you need only inherit one copy of a mutated gene from one parent to have the disease; this is called a dominant inherited disorder.
A third variation on genetic inheritance is called a sex-linked, or x-linked, disorder, in which the genetic mutation is carried on the X chromosome. Because males have only one X chromosome, they’re more likely to have X-linked forms of muscular dystrophy than females, who have two X chromosomes. That’s because in females, the normal copy of the X chromosome can usually compensate for the one that has the mutation.
It’s also possible for spontaneous gene mutations — in which genes mutate for no apparent reason, regardless of parental DNA — to cause muscular dystrophy. Such mutations occur during development in the embryo. This means the condition can develop in people with no family history of it.
Muscular Dystrophy and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
Given the complexity of how muscular dystrophy can be inherited, couples who want to have children and who know or suspect they carry gene mutations that cause muscular dystrophy are generally advised by their physician to meet with a genetic counselor before they conceive to better understand the risk of their offspring having the disease and discuss ways of lowering that risk.
How Is Muscular Dystrophy Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of any type of muscular dystrophy usually begins with your doctor taking a patient history — including asking about any family history of the condition — and performing a physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will look for any abnormal curvature in your spine, abnormalities in the way you walk, or evidence of muscle wasting or weakness or diminished reflexes.
Your doctor may also order a blood test to check your creatine kinase (CK) level. CK is an enzyme that leaks out of damaged muscle. When elevated CK is found in blood, it typically means muscle is wasting away due to muscular dystrophy or inflammation.
A very elevated CK level indicates that the muscles themselves are the likely cause of the weakness, although it doesn’t identify the type of muscle disorder you may have.
Because muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder, your doctor will likely recommend you undergo genetic testing to determine whether there are any genetic mutations — particularly if your blood tests reveal an elevated CK level. The type of mutations involved will depend on what type, if any, of muscular dystrophy you have.
Finally, your doctor may also suggest a muscle biopsy, which involves the surgical removal of a small sample of muscle. The muscle tissue can be examined under microscope for the presence and appearance of specific proteins, and it can also be used to extract DNA for genetic testing.
In addition to blood and genetic tests, your doctor may also perform neurological tests to rule out nervous system disorders that could cause similar symptoms.
Heart tests, like an electrocardiogram (ECG), may also be used to measure the rate and frequency of heartbeats. Some forms of muscular dystrophy cause heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat.
Finally, imaging tests like MRI or ultrasound imaging may be used to examine muscle quality and bulk, as well as the fatty replacement of muscle tissue. This can help spot muscle wasting and other possible symptoms of muscular dystrophy.
Duration of Muscular Dystrophy
The life expectancy, or life span, for people with muscular dystrophy depends on the type involved, and when it’s diagnosed, according to the MDA.
Children, for example, who develop DMD usually die in their late teens or early twenties from heart trouble, respiratory complications, or infections, although new ventilator technologies and improved drug treatments for these ailments have extended the lives of many people with this form of muscular dystrophy.
Parent's Guide to Pediatric Muscular Dystrophies
Life expectancy for people with myotonic dystrophy varies considerably. Many people have a normal life expectancy, but those with more severe congenital forms — from birth — may die while still a newborn, or only survive for a few years. In addition, people with myotonic dystrophy can develop heart problems that may lead to death during their thirties or forties.
Finally, individuals with facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, limb-girdle, Emery-Dreifuss, distal, and oculopharyngeal dystrophies may have a normal life span. But symptoms can vary from mild to severely disabling, affecting mobility and other necessary functions — like eyesight and hearing — later in life.
Treatment and Medication Options for Muscular Dystrophy
Currently, there’s no cure for muscular dystrophy, and no treatment can reverse the damage it causes to muscles. But there are therapies and medications that can address some of the problems associated with the symptoms and help control the symptoms themselves.
These therapies can also help you maintain your quality of life and ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
Some examples of therapies that may be helpful are:
Physical therapy Working with a physical therapist can help you keep muscles flexible and strong. A physical therapist may also recommend a combination of light muscle-building and stretching exercises to help you maintain strength and flexibility.
Yoga Poses for Muscular Dystrophy
Speech therapy Some forms of muscular dystrophy cause weakness in the facial and throat muscles, affecting speech or swallowing. Speech therapists can teach people how to work around these problems or, if needed, use special communication equipment.
Occupational therapy As your physical abilities change, an occupational therapist can teach you techniques to conserve your energy while performing daily tasks or find alternative ways of accomplishing what you wish to do. An occupational therapist can also teach you how to use assistive devices such as wheelchairs and utensils, if needed.
Drug treatment Prescription medications that can help slow or control the symptoms of the condition include the following:
like prednisone, which can help increase muscle strength, improve respiratory function, and slow the progression of muscle weakness
- Anticonvulsants, which though typically taken for epilepsy, may help control seizures and some muscle spasms caused by muscular dystrophy
- Immunosuppressants, which may help delay some damage to muscle cells
- Antibiotics, which may be needed to treat respiratory infections, since muscular dystrophy can impact your immune system’s ability to fight them off
Complications of Muscular Dystrophy
Complications are generally understood to be indirect, or sometimes long-term, consequences of having a condition, although they may also overlap with symptoms in some cases. These are some of the health complications associated with muscular dystrophy.
Contractures Contractures are the shortening of muscles or tendons around the joints, and they can limit mobility beyond that caused by muscle weakness. Regular stretching and range-of-motion exercises can delay contractures, but if they become severe, your doctor may recommend surgery, which may restore some joint function and reduce discomfort.
Breathing difficulties As it progresses, muscular dystrophy may affect the muscles associated with breathing. As a result, an individual with muscular dystrophy may need to use a breathing device (a ventilator), perhaps initially only at night but possibly also during the day. Sleep apnea, in which a person repeatedly stops breathing during sleep, is a common respiratory problem in people with muscular dystrophy.
Coughing difficulties Weakened respiratory muscles interfere with a person’s ability to cough, and inadequate coughing allows mucus secretions to accumulate in the lungs, raising the risk of infection. Some people with muscular dystrophy need to use a cough assist device or manual assistance to clear secretions.
Swallowing difficulties Progressive muscle weakness may negatively affect the ability to swallow when eating or drinking. Some of the potential consequences of swallowing difficulties include nutrient deficiencies and a condition called aspiration pneumonia, in which food can get trapped in the lungs, leading to pneumonia, a lung infection.
In some cases, a speech-language pathologist can help you relearn how to swallow. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend the use of a feeding tube to ensure proper nutrition.
Heart disease The heart muscles may be affected by muscular dystrophy as the condition progresses. One common heart complication in people with muscular dystrophy is called cardiomyopathy. As the name indicates, cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease, and it can cause heart failure. The condition is treatable. Your doctor may recommend blood pressure medications and other drugs to help you maintain adequate heart function.
Women who carry a genetic mutation that causes DMD are at a higher-than-normal risk of developing fibrosis, or scarring, of the heart muscles at a relatively young age. The condition leads to deterioration of heart function.
Scoliosis Spinal deformities are common in some forms of muscular dystrophy. The most frequent spinal complication associated with the condition is scoliosis, or curvature of the spine to one side or the other. It typically occurs in people who can no longer stand or walk and who use a wheelchair full-time.
Osteoporosis Another orthopedic complication linked with muscular dystrophy is osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become fragile because of a loss of mass. While osteoporosis is normally associated with older age, in people with muscular dystrophy, it may develop as a result of treatment with corticosteroids, particularly in those with DMD.
People with osteoporosis are at increased risk for bone fractures — an important consideration given that weakness in the legs from muscular dystrophy may make a person more prone to falling.