Conventional treatment for multiple sclerosis manages the disease as symptomatic attacks occur. During an acute relapse, high doses of corticosteroids are often administered. This therapy is generally effective in the short term for relieving symptoms, but has no lasting impact on recovery. Corticosteroids are similar to the natural hormone cortisone and are very powerful. The many side effects of corticosteroids are well known, and include increased appetite and weight gain, high blood pressure, decreased immune response, osteoporosis, the destruction of blood vessels, and diabetes.
Beta interferons are also commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis. Beta interferons are genetically engineered copies of proteins that naturally occur in the body. While these medications can reduce disease symptoms, researchers are uncertain of the mechanism that causes this response, and of the long term benefits of use. These drugs do not reverse damage and have not been proven to prevent permanent disability. Many patients are unable to tolerate the flu-like side effects of beta interferons.