What’s the Link Between Hormones and MS?

Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes multiple sclerosis. An area of their interest is hormones, which act as messengers in the body to influence everything from your moods, hunger, growth, and sex drive.

Studies show hormones may also affect how MS plays out in your body, how much damage it does, and your odds of having the disease in the first place.

Testosterone

Like other autoimmune diseases, which make your body turn against itself, MS is more common in women. One reason might have to do with sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Studies suggest that high levels of testosterone in young males may protect them from disease. Men also tend to get MS later in life, when their testosterone levels usually dip.

It’s possible that testosterone could be a treatment against MS. One small study found that men with the condition who used a testosterone gel daily showed improved memory and attention. They also lost nerve cells in their brain more slowly. A reason might be the hormone’s anti-inflammatory powers. With MS, your immune cells attack your nervous system. This leads to inflammation. That harms the nerves and their protective coating, called myelin. Testosterone may lessen or even prevent that.

Estrogen

Normal levels of this female sex hormone, or the amount in birth control pills, don't seem to protect against MS. But high doses might. Women with MS tend to have fewer symptoms during pregnancy, a time when estrogen levels spike.

High levels of two types of estrogen, estriol and estradiol, have been shown to have a benefit against MS. For people who have the relapsing-remitting type of MS, the hormones may make the relapses, when symptoms appear, less frequent. Estrogen is believed to work in the same way as testosterone, by lowering inflammation.

Thyroid Hormones

These hormones affect nearly every tissue in your body. The two main ones are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Early research on mice suggests that these two can slow, and even reverse, nerve damage brought on by MS. That may ease symptoms like tingling, vision problems, and tiredness.

Thyroid hormones work by activating cells that help make the protective myelin. Researchers say that taking a thyroid hormone supplement between flares can boost myelin production.

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Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

This helps children and teens grow and mature. In adults, it helps control your metabolism, muscle and bone growth, and other activities. MS symptoms tend to be more severe in people with low HGH levels. Researchers continue to study how the hormone may help protect against the disease.

Vitamin D

It’s actually a hormone. You get some of it from food, such as fish and fortified dairy products. Your body also makes it from sunlight.

We’ve long known about the link between MS and sunlight. The disease is more common the farther you get from the sunny equator. Research suggests that vitamin D can strengthen your immune system and protect against getting MS.

If you already have it, vitamin D may lessen your symptoms and make flare-ups come less often. Your doctor may want to check vitamin level to see if you need to take a supplement.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 25, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president, research, National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Experimental Biology and Medicine: “Thyroid Hormone Alleviates Demyelination Induced By Cuprizone Through Its Role in Remyelination During the Remission Period.”
Hormone Health Network: “What Are Hormones and What Do They Do?”

JAMA Neurology: “Testosterone Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vitamin D and MS: Is There Any Connection?”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Hormones: The Basic Facts,”  “Vitamin D,”  “Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs in MS.”

Neurology: “Recombinant Human Growth Hormone for Remyelination in MS: Results of a Pilot Trial in Patients with Chronically Delayed VEP (P5.344).”

NeuroSciences: “Update in Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis.”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Thyroid Hormone Administration Enhances Remyelination in Chronic Demyelinating Inflammatory Disease.”

The Lancet Neurology: “Estriol Combined with Glatiramer Acetate for Women With Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis: A Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Phase 2 Trial.”

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