“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Growing up, this sing-song refrain stood as nothing more than a reminder from my parents to eat my fruits and veggies. But it turns out that this one-liner may actually have some truth to it. According to researchers from Thomas Jefferson University, ursolic acid – a compound found in some herbs, alongside apple and prune peels – may reverse brain neuron damage caused by multiple sclerosis.
While this doesn’t mean that eating more fruit will alter the course of multiple sclerosis, it does mean that doctors may be able to create more targeted and effective treatments moving forward. Read the full study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
About Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that interrupts the way that the brain and the body communicate. The body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath, or the protective coating of nerve cells. When nerves become exposed, the process of transmitting neuro messages is either slowed or stopped. Some patients experiencing relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis, meaning periods of remission between intense symptoms. Others have progressive MS, which may lead to a loss of function.
Early symptoms include muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and issues with vision or speech. While there are some treatments to halt the progression of the disease, it has previously been difficult to repair any resulting damage. Learn more about multiple sclerosis here.
About the Findings
Researchers tested their hypothesis on mice models of multiple sclerosis. Rather than examine mice at the onset or peak of the disease, researchers wanted to see if ursolic acid impacted mice with chronic MS. This meant that the mice models already had tissue damage. Researchers began treatment on day 60.
Next, researchers treated the mice models with ursolic acid for another 60 days. Improvement was seen at day 20. Whereas the mice had previously been paralyzed as a result of MS, they were soon able to walk again. Although the mice did display signs of muscle weakness, their ability to walk signified a reversal and recovery from prior damage.
Ursolic acid, in this case, works by repressing TH17 cells and preventing them from activating the immune response that leads to damage in patients with multiple sclerosis. Additionally, ursolic acid stimulated the growth of oligodendrocytes.
“So why is that important?” you may be asking. Well, oligodendrocytes can make myelin sheaths, the protective layer over nerve cells that is damaged by MS. In patients with MS, the stem cells that create oligodendrocytes cannot mature on their own. Ursolic acid treatment would encourage maturation and growth. With myelin sheath regeneration, symptoms of MS were reversed.
For the time being, you will probably not see ursolic acid available for MS treatment. It is available in supplement form. But doctors note that it increases in toxicity in higher doses. Learning how to utilize ursolic acid safely is the first step. Next, doctors hope to move towards clinical trials.