Fruit peel compound may reverse some multiple sclerosis damage

A new study out of Thomas Jefferson University has found preliminary evidence that a compound found in some herbs and fruit peels may help protect against and reverse some of the damage caused by the devasting autoimmune disease called multiple sclerosis. Existing MS treatments can help slow down the progression of this disease, but at this point in time, they cannot reverse the damage caused to neurons.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the body's immune system begins to attack the protective sheath that covers nerves and neurons, leading to progressive pain, numbness, muscle weakness, vision troubles, memory loss, and more. Early intervention may be able to slow down the progression of the disease, but there is no cure at this time.

The newly published study involved lab mice that had been bred to develop multiple sclerosis that mimics the progression in humans. The researchers focused on mice suffering chronically from the disease, meaning that the central nervous system in these mice had suffered damage as a consequence of the condition.

Treatment with purified, lab-grade ursolic acid was started at day 60 of the disease in these mice, which is described as an advanced stage involving damage to the spinal cord and brain. At day 20 of the treatment, which was day 80 of the disease in the mice, the researchers found that paralyzed mice, though still experiencing muscle weakness, could once again walk.

This indicated a reversal of the damage that had been caused by the disease at such a late stage. In addition, the researchers found that ursolic acid may activate precursor cells that lead to the formation of cells that make the myelin sheath damaged by the immune system in MS sufferers, which may explain the positive changes observed in the mice.

The study's co-senior author Guang-Xian Zhang, Ph.D., explained:

It's not a cure, but if we see a similar response in people, it would represent a significant change in the quality of life. And most significantly, it's a reversal, which we really haven't seen before with other agents at such a late stage of disease.

Additional research is still necessary, however, to determine whether this compound is safe to take in high doses, as well as whether it has the same effect in humans as in mice.