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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is getting more attention these days. You have probably read the headlines about two well-known actresses afflicted with the condition.
Another reason for the attention is that the National MS Society reports that more people are being diagnosed with MS today than in the past.
Some people with MS (like a cousin of mine) can live a normal, active life for years. Others live the majority of their lives wheelchair-bound, and that can be a long time. The average lifespan of MS sufferers is 76 years.
Currently, there is no cure for MS.
That’s why the first clinical trial of a safe, natural substance that seems to reverse the effects of MS has raised so much excitement in the medical community…
Better than the approved drug therapy
Researchers at the University of California Irvine have found that a simple sugar, N-acetylglucosamine — a form of glucosamine that’s shown effective for joint discomfort and often used in supplements — may be a gamechanger for people with MS.
“Our previous studies in mice and humans implicated N-acetylglucosamine in suppressing brain inflammation, promoting the re-growth of the myelin sheath and slowing brain degeneration,” said Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at the UCI School of Medicine.
Myelin is the fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. In MS, the myelin is destroyed in many areas. This loss of myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis. These areas are also called plaques or lesions.
In this latest research, the N-acetylglucosamine used in the study was obtained from a supplement company, Wellesley Therapeutics in Toronto and was provided as a powder in pre-measured sachets of 2g each that dissolves quickly in water.
The researchers tested two dosage levels in two separate groups. One group took 2 g three times daily (6 g total) and the other took 4 g three times daily (12 g total), dissolved in 6 ounces of water each serving for a total of four weeks. Mild but tolerable gastrointestinal side effects observed at the 12 g but not 6 g dose.
After analysis, they found that N-acetylglucosamine was safe and reduced multiple inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in MS patients despite the patients already being on the FDA-approved immunomodulatory therapy Glatiramer Acetate, known to impact these pathways outside the brain.
“We also observed a sustained reduction in neurological disability in 30 percent of the patients, an activity which has not been observed with current FDA-approved therapies,” said Michael Y. Sy, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurology, UCI School of Medicine. “They at best slow progression, not improve function.”
A supplement with the potential to reverse MS
“Future studies demonstrating that N-acetylglucosamine can restore neurological function in MS patients would be a game changer and provide something that no other current therapy can do,” says Dr. Demetriou, Professor of Neurology and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at the UCI School of Medicine.
This is great news for people suffering with MS and for anyone over the age of 50. That’s because research shows autoimmune conditions are 50 percent higher in older adults than they were 25 years ago.
Other research into reducing autoimmune disease has found that study participants who took both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements for 5 years reduced the occurrence of autoimmune disease by 25 to 30 percent compared with those who got placebos only.
Regarding MS in particular, a study that included 800,000 women from Finland found that 58 percent of women who eventually developed MS had low vitamin D levels nine years before they were diagnosed with the disease. But only 52 percent of women who didn’t develop the disease had low vitamin D levels.
So hope is certainly on the horizon as researchers keep trying to wipe out or at least reduce the damage of this debilitating disease.
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N-acetylglucosamine inhibits inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in multiple sclerosis: a mechanistic trial — Journal of Neuroinflammation
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) — Johns Hopkins Medicine