What is Myasthenia Gravis?

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Myasthenia Gravis

Healthylife Pharmacy5 September 2017|4 min read

Myasthenia gravis is a long-term autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness. The term ‘myasthenia gravis’ comes from the Greek work myasthenia which means muscle weakness and the Latin word ‘gravis’ meaning severe. In myasthenia gravis, the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles is interfered with by the immune system – resulting in muscle fatigue. It mostly affects muscles that control facial expression, chewing, swallowing and eye movement. There is no cure for this condition but the symptoms can certainly be improved by implementing natural therapies.

Symptoms of myasthenia gravis

In the initial stages, myasthenia gravis affects the muscles around the face, such as those that control eye and eyelid movement, chewing, talking, swallowing and facial expression. Visual disturbances such as double vision, inability to hold a steady gaze, droopy eyelids and difficulties swallowing can occur. The muscles that control breathing and neck and limb movement may also be affected. This can result in difficulty holding the head up, raising the arms, shortness of breath, difficulties breathing and walking upstairs. One of the hallmarks of myasthenia gravis is that symptoms worsen from activity and improve with periods of rest.

What causes the condition?

In myasthenia gravis, there is a problem with how our nervous system communicates with the muscles. The neuromuscular junction is the place where the communication becomes disrupted as this is where nerve cells connect with the muscles they control.

In a healthy individual, nerve impulses trigger the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which then travels across the neuromuscular junction, binds to receptors and contracts the muscle.

In myasthenia gravis, antibodies are produced by the immune system which block, alter or destroy the receptors for acetylcholine which in return prevents the muscle from contracting.

Who does it affect?

Unfortunately, Myasthenia gravis can develop at any age and affects all races. Before the age of 40 women are three times more likely to develop the condition compared to men. However, over the age of 50, more men are affected than women. It is rare for the condition to develop under the age of 15, except in some Asian countries. The condition doesn’t seem to be inherited but people who inherit a tendency to autoimmune disorders are more likely to develop myasthenia gravis.

A national epidemiological study of myasthenia gravis in Australia discovered that 2,574 people were being treated for this condition in 2009. This equates to 1.2 out of every 10,000 people.

Myasthenia Gravis and the thymus gland

In adults with myasthenia gravis the thymus can become abnormally enlarged. It resembles lymphoid hyperplasia – a condition that usually affects the spleen and lymph nodes during an acute immune response. In some individuals with myasthenia gravis, tumours of the thymus gland can develop. These tumours, also called thymomas, are usually non-cancerous. This relationship between the thymus gland and myasthenia gravis mostly remains a mystery. Scientists believe that that the thymus gland may give incorrect instructions to immune cells to produce acetylcholine receptor antibodies which ultimately results in severe immune dysregulation.

Treatment options in natural therapies

The medical treatment of myasthenia gravis can involve surgery or certain medications. Natural therapies can be used alongside traditional therapies but it is important to check with your doctor or naturopath before introducing certain supplements.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is common in individuals with myasthenia gravis. Sometimes it can occur as a side-effect of corticosteroid treatment to reduce inflammation. Vitamin D has vital roles in regulating the immune system and in skeletal muscles. When taken as a supplement, patients with myasthenia gravis had a reduction in fatigue and an improvement in the autoimmune response.


Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and arguably the most important for muscle health. In myasthenia gravis, it may help to improve muscular energy, support healthy nerves and reduce inflammation. Although there are no studies to document its effectiveness in this condition, it could theoretically be of assistance in cases of severe fatigue. With magnesium, it’s suggested a good quality powder or tablet is taken and you commence with a small dose.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 supports the production of energy in muscles. It may therefore help to combat fatigue and muscle weakness. In addition to this, coenzyme Q10 provides antioxidant support to protect cell membranes against free radical damage. Although our body naturally produces this important nutrient, levels may be depleted in those with myasthenia gravis.


Allicin is the major biologically active component of crushed garlic and research has found that it is effective in inhibiting cholinesterase enzymes and upregulating the levels of acetylcholine. The inhibition of this enzyme is considered essential in the treatment of myasthenia gravis. Results may be achieved by eating fresh, raw garlic after meals or by supplementing with an garlic capsule.


Curcumin, the active component of turmeric, is a traditional Asian medicine used for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. More recent research has identified curcumin as a potential therapeutic agent for myasthenia gravis. Curcumin displays a diverse range of immunomodulatory properties by shifting the balance towards a better regulated immune system and reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Adequate rest

Minimising physical exertion and allowing time for rest and relaxation can greatly improve symptoms. The emotional ups and downs of life can worsen the symptoms of any autoimmune disease. It’s important to learn techniques to manage stress through art therapy, reading books, light stretching and breathing techniques. Getting enough sleep each night is essential to allow the body to rest and repair and to provide enough energy for the next day.


  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/myasthenia-gravis Gattellari M, et al. A national epidemiological study of myasthenia gravis in Australia. Eur J Neurol. 2012 Nov;19(11):1413-20
  2. Askmark H, et al. Vitamin D deficiency in patients with myasthenia gravis and improvement of fatigue after supplementation of vitamin D3: a pilot study. Eur J Neurol. 2012 Dec;19(12):1554-60
  3. Wang S, et al. Curcumin ameliorates experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis by diverse immune cells. Neurosci Lett. 2016 Jul 28;626:25-34
  4. Kumar S. Dual inhibition of acetylcholinesterase and butyryl cholinesterase enzymes by allicin. Indian J Pharmacol. 2015 Jul-Aug;47(4):444-6