Ursolic acid prevented damage to the nerves’ protective myelin coating and repaired existing damage, in mice with an MS-like condition.
Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University tested ursolic acid - a compound found in high levels in some fruits - in a mouse model of MS. After 20 days treatment mice that were previously paralysed regained the ability to walk but still had muscle weakness.
The mice tested had advanced stages of the MS-like condition where nerves were already damaged. So this research could have potential for progressive MS.
A double effect
In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin coat that protects nerves. That’s what causes MS symptoms. Our bodies have a natural ability to repair myelin. This involves special myelin making cells which are made from oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs). In MS, myelin repair doesn’t work as well so nerves become vulnerable to damage.
The researchers found that, in mice, ursolic acid reduced the immune attacks on myelin. The compound also stimulated OPCs to mature into myelin making cells and repair myelin. These effects were also seen in cells grown in a dish.
What is ursolic acid?
Ursolic acid is found in some fruit peels, herbs and spices. It’s available as a supplement but in the study the researchers used a purified form suitable for lab use.
It’s also being looked at as a treatment for other nervous system conditions.
What does this mean for people with MS?
Most of the treatments available for MS help those with the relapsing form. They work by dampening down immune system attacks on myelin. But they don’t repair the lasting damage from the attacks, or stop nerve cells dying, which are what causes the build-up of disability as MS progresses.
To stop MS, we need treatments that work on all these issues happening in the body. This early research suggests that ursolic acid could be promising because of its double effect in preventing and repairing damage.
Dr Katie Howe, our Research Communications Manager said “It’s encouraging to see this research, which could hold promise for people with progressive forms of MS. But more work is needed before ursolic acid can be taken forward into trials with people.”
Will eating fruit like apples and grapes be good for my MS?
Ursolic acid is found in high levels in some fruit peels, herbs and spices. It’s being investigated for MS and other nervous system conditions. But the study doesn’t tell us about the effect of eating fruit peel on people with MS.
In the study the mice were given a purified form of ursolic acid suitable for lab use. We don’t know if giving the mice fruit would have the same effect as ursolic acid. And so far this work has only been carried out in animals and cells. So we don’t know if ursolic acid will have the same effect in people with MS.
The researchers also need to test the safety of ursolic acid. Although its currently available as a dietary supplement it could be toxic at high doses.
A healthy diet - including fruits and vegetables - is good for everyone. But everyone's lifestyle is a their personal choice. If you're thinking of making any big changes, we encourage you to speak to your MS specialist first.
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