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Fighting MS: Old Product a New Help?

Glucosamine Fights Multiple Sclerosis in Tests on Mice
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 1, 2005 -- Glucosamine, an over-the-counter natural product often taken to ease joint pain from osteoarthritis, may counter multiple sclerosis (MS).

That's according to a new study in The Journal of Immunology.

The researchers included Guang-Xian Zhang, MD, PhD. Zhang is an assistant professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University's Jefferson Medical College.

Zhang's team studied mice, not people. Their report doesn't include any recommendations about glucosamine use.

However, the researchers write that glucosamine might work well with other MS drugs and may have potential against other autoimmune diseases.

About MS

In autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, the body's immune system doesn't work properly.

The immune system protects the body from viruses and other unfamiliar matter. But in autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the body's own tissue.

In MS, the immune system damages tissue called myelin, a sheath wrapped around nerves. As a result, MS can cause problems with muscle control, vision, balance, sensation (such as numbness), and thinking ability.

MS affects more than 300,000 people in the U.S., write Zhang and colleagues. The disease's exact cause isn't known.

Mimicking MS in Mice

The researchers studied mice with an MS-like disease. Glucosamine suppressed symptoms of that disease and tamed inflammation in the mice, the researchers report.

In a news release, Zhang's colleague, A.M. Rostami, MD, PhD, gave his perspective.

"It would be fantastic if glucosamine works in humans because we have a product that has a long track record for safety, and most importantly, can be given orally," Rostami says.

"As a therapy, it might be used in combination with other proven treatments, such as beta-interferon and copaxone," Rostami continues.

Rostami, who worked on the study, is a professor and chairman of the neurology department at Thomas Jefferson University's Jefferson Medical College and Philadelphia's Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience. He also directs the neuroimmunology lab in Jefferson Medical College's neurology department.

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