Cashews may hold the secret to healing damaged nerves

Myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerves, is damaged by certain diseases like multiple sclerosis, leading to chronic pain and, over time, severe dysfunction. Preventing or, in cases where the disease has already progressed, reversing the demyelination is necessary to treat the conditions, something that isn't yet possible in any substantial way. A compound found in cashew shells may offer a solution.

Previous research by the study's senior author Subramaniam Sriram found that a protein called IL-33 can be used to induce the formation of the myelin sheath around nerves in addition to regulating the immune system. The latest study from the researcher found that anacardic acid, a compound found in cashew shells, can potentially be used to help treat diseases that involve demyelination.

Attention was turned to this compound because it inhibits acetyltransferase, an enzyme that influences gene expression — of note, inhibiting this enzyme triggers IL-33 production, the protein that regulates the immune system and triggers myelin formation. Multiple sclerosis, a demyelination disease, is an autoimmune condition that results from the immune system attacking the body's own nerves.

Research involving lab animals found, among other things, that treating animals suffering from demyelination with this cashew shell compound reduced the severity of their paralysis. The researchers note that animals treated with anacardic acid showed myelination increases that were dose-dependent, as well.

Though this doesn't mean the average person can use cashew shells to heal nerves damaged by demyelination, it does pave the way for additional research that may lead to new, more effective treatment options. Sriram said of the study, "These are striking results that clearly urge further study of anacardic acid for demyelinating diseases."