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Harnessing good fats to relieve multiple sclerosis symptoms

by American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


"We believe our findings could lead to the discovery of new solutions to aid in managing symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other chronic inflammatory diseases like diabetes"


'Dietary fats' are still regarded by too many people as something to be avoided, reduced or limited - not least because public health messaging still treats 'fat' in foods as though this were a single (harmful) substance.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, there are many different kinds of fats - and some dietary fats are absolutely essential for life and health - namely, the omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids

It's also the long-chain forms of each that are most important (omega-3 EPA and DHA, and omega-6 DGLA and AA) - not the short-chain forms found in some plant foods. But we need these omega-3 and omega-6 fats in the right balance.

Instead, however, modern, western-diet diets are seriously deficient in the long-chain omega-3 fats. And yet regulatory substances made from EPA and DHA are vital for a healthy immune system - as well as a healthy heart and circulation, and a healthy brain (as well as every other vital organ and system).  Because some of these substances are vital for controlling inflammation and pain - as well as in regulating blood flow, hormonal balance, and almost every aspect of cell signalling (including gene expression and regulation).

Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune disease, in which a dysregulated immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys myelin - the fatty coating that helps speed up brain and nerve cell signalling. 

And this new study provides good evidence that a regulatory substance - made from omega-3 DHA - both reduced the severity of MS-type symptoms, and delayed their onset, when added to the diets of mice prone to develop this devastating disease.

The substance in question is DHEA - one of the 'endocannabinoids', a super-family of natural substances which resemble the active ingredients found in marijuana. This is made within the body from the long-chain omega-3 DHA, found in fish and seafood - but only if we have enough DHA in our diets (and depending on our overall balance of long-chain omega-3 and omega-6).

As the researchers emphasise - this is by no means a 'cure' for Multiple Sclerosis - but anything that reduces symptoms is obviously good news for those affected.  These findings also add to a large body of existing evidence that the long-chain omega-3 fats from fish oils may help to slow progression or delay relapse in at least some patients with Multiple Sclerosis, and to reduce inflammation and pain in this and many other conditions involving an 'overactive' and dysregulated immune system. 

For details of the underlying research, see:

For further information on MS please see:

And for more information on endocannabinoids and other regulator substances made from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids - collectively known as 'lipid mediators' (or oxylipins), please see:

08/02/2023 - Medical Xpress

Basic nutrition teaches that fat, when consumed in large quantities, is harmful to human health. However, the components that make up fats are complex. Good, unsaturated fats, or lipids, can lower disease risk.

In fact, in a new study, researchers found that a good fat derivative may be able to relieve symptoms in patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). They published their results in the Journal of Biological Chemistry on Jan. 7.
The study was conducted by Justin Kim, a postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Aditi Das, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Georgia Tech, Andrew Steelman, an associate professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and their colleagues.
MS is a chronic, autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord during which the immune system attacks the cells and tissues that protect nerve fibers. This potentially debilitating disease can cause pain, vision loss, fatigue, impaired cognitive function and more. There is no cure for MS, and it affects almost 1 million people nationwide.
The researchers specifically looked at docosahexaenoyl ethanolamide (DHEA), a derivative of the lipids found in cold-water fish and fish oil supplements, and its impact on the immune system. Interestingly, DHEA has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and has similar properties to cannabis in some contexts.
"Our goal was to use something that is naturally found in food and the human body to see if we can enhance it to reduce the disease severity in multiple sclerosis patients," Das said.
Using a common mouse model that closely mimics the relapsing and remitting nature of MS, Kim, Steelman and Das noticed that DHEA is at its highest concentration in the mice when they are in a state of remission, which prompted them to consider if DHEA could dampen the inflammation that controls the disease.
"We thought if we could somehow alleviate, control or reduce the level of inflammation, we could improve the disease outcomes and severity," Kim explained.
Even though taking fish oil supplements has been linked to improved quality of life in patients with inflammatory conditions, the interworking of this association has never been teased apart in MS, until now. Kim, Steelman and Das were the first to show that the DHEA lipid can reduce inflammation and disease signs in a mouse model of MS.
The researchers found that, when they supplemented the diet of mice with DHEA, the mice showed less severe and later onset of MS-like disease. This reduction is likely due to the presence of fewer activated, pathogenic T cells in the central nervous system, the research team found.
"We believe our findings could lead to the discovery of new solutions to aid in managing symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other chronic inflammatory diseases like diabetes," Das said.
So, should you start taking fish oil supplements? First, more work is needed to study how DHEA affects other parts of the immune system and humans. However, the researchers are optimistic that this is a step forward in using naturally occurring good fats or their derivatives to lower inflammation without the negative side effects of some currently prescribed medications.
"I've seen that a lot of patients with multiple sclerosis are fully in tune with the research," Kim said. "They are always trying to do everything that they can to improve their symptoms, whether it be through exercise, diet or just healthy living, while trying to reduce their consumption of heavy pain medications."
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society advises patients reasonable doses of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplements are generally safe and may be beneficial. However, patients should consult with their doctors before changing their medications, and supplements should never be used as a replacement for conventional therapies.
"There is no cure for MS, yet, and anything to help improve the patients' symptoms is always of interest," Kim said.