New Dietary MS Therapy

N acetylglucosamine may prevent MS attacks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The dietary supplement glucosamine is popular for helping aching, arthritic joints. A new supplement looks like it could suppress the damaging autoimmune response seen in multiple sclerosis (MS).

The supplement, N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc), is similar to but more effective than glucosamine. In studies, it was found to inhibit the growth and function of abnormal immune cells that in MS make the immune system attack and break down central nervous system tissue that protects nerves.

"Ask your doctor about glucosamine-like supplements."

Dr. Michael Demetriou, of the University of California, Irvine, and others had previously discovered that environmental and inherited genetic risk factors associated with MS come together to affect how specific sugars are added to proteins that regulate the disease. Because GlcNAc is sugar-based, it can correct a genetic defect that causes cells to attack the body in MS, explains Dr. Demetriou.

Virtually all proteins on the surface of cells, including immune cells such as T cells, are modified by complex sugar molecules. Changes in these sugars have been linked to T-cell hyperactivity and MS as well as other autoimmune diseases.

In this study, Dr. Demetriou and his team found that when given orally to mice genetically engineered to have an MS-like disease, GlcNAc stopped T-cell hyperactivity and the damaging autoimmune response, thereby reversing the progression toward paralysis seen in MS.

Other studies have discovered promising possible uses GlcNAc. One study reported that eight out of 12 children with treatment-resistant inflammatory bowel disease improved significantly after two years of GlcNAc therapy. No serious adverse side effects were noted. These two studies together, Dr. Demetriou asserts, point to the possibility of using dietary supplements such as GlcNAc to treat autoimmune diseases.

He cautions, however, that more human studies are required to assess the full potential of the approach. Although GlcNAc supplements are available over the counter, people should consult their doctors before using it.

The study results appear in The Journal of Biological Chemistry. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 8, 2011
Last Updated:
October 9, 2011