Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Font Size

Cholesterol Drugs Might Work for MS

Animal Studies Show Statins to be Effective in Early, Late Disease
WebMD Health News

Nov. 6, 2002 -- Millions of people take statins to lower their cholesterol, but early studies suggests these drugs may also be useful in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

In newly published research from the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University, the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor prevented disease progression and reversed paralysis in mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease. And an Austrian study, published last month, found that the statin Zocor slowed the growth of immune cells associated with progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

While the laboratory findings offer the promise of better treatments for MS and other immune system diseases, they have yet to be confirmed in human trials. A small study involving 32 MS patients is now underway in South Carolina, and the California researchers hope to enroll around 125 patients for a trial set to begin next year.

"Statins may have [immune-system modulating] activity that could be relevant to different autoimmune diseases," researcher Scott S. Zamvil, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "The potential application is there, but we need to do clinical trials in patients to determine if we see the same results."

MS is a progressive disease, in which the body's immune system attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Specifically, one of the immune system's key cells -- known as the T helper cell -- prompts an inflammatory response, which over time wears down the protective coating on nerve fibers in the brain. Once damaged, the coating, or myelin sheath, is unable to transmit signals effectively from the brain to the rest of the body -- causing symptoms from difficulty swallowing to blindness and paralysis.

The first hints that statins can regulate damaging inflammatory responses came in the mid-1990s, when one of the first drugs in the class was found to reduce rejection and increase survival in heart transplant patients.

In the current study, reported in the Nov. 7 issue of the journal Nature, Zamvil and colleagues examined the effects of Lipitor in mice with a disease similar to advanced multiple sclerosis. The drug was found to lessen paralysis. And it kept paralysis from occurring in mice with MS-like flares. In mice experiencing their first attack of MS, the drug prevented progression to fully established disease. In animals that had already had a first attack, and were developing symptoms of a first relapse, treatment was found to reverse emerging paralysis. Temporary, but recurring, paralysis is a major symptom of MS.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
woman applying lotion
Ideas on how to boost your mood and self-esteem.
woman pondering
Get personalized treatment options.
man with hand over eye
Be on the lookout for these symptoms.
brain scan
worried woman
neural fiber
white blood cells
sunlight in hands
marijuana plant
muscle spasm