N-acetyl-glucosamine suppresses autoimmune attack
A report published online this month in the Journal of Biological Chemistry described the finding of assistant professor of neurology Michael Demetriou at the University of California Irvine Center for Immunology and his colleagues that N-acetylglucosamine, a form of the commonly used arthritis supplement glucosamine, suppresses the growth and function of abnormal T-cells responsible for autoimmune attack in multiple sclerosis and diabetes type 1. The cause of autoimmune disease is not completely understood, but is believed to be the result of interactions between inherited risk and environmental exposure.
Using mouse models of the two diseases, Dr Demetriou’s team discovered that by modifying T-cell proteins, the sugar N-acetylglucosamine prevents T-cell hyperactivity that results in autoimmune attack on brain myelin and the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Preventing this attack of the body on itself protects against the development of paralysis in multiple sclerosis as well as elevated glucose in diabetes.
“This finding shows the potential of using a dietary supplement to help treat autoimmune diseases,” Dr Demetriou commented. “Most importantly, we understand how this sugar-based supplement inhibits the cells that attack the body, making metabolic therapy a rational approach to prevent or treat these debilitating diseases.”
Another recent study found improvement in 75 percent of children with treatment-resistant autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease who received a two year course of N-acetylglucosamine. “Together, these findings identify metabolic therapy using dietary supplements such as N-acetylglucosamine as potential treatments for autoimmune diseases,” Dr Demetriou stated. “Excitement for this treatment strategy stems from the novel mechanism for affecting T-cell function and autoimmunity and the availability and simplicity of its use. However, additional studies in humans will be required to assess the full potential of this therapeutic approach.”
For reasons that remain a mystery, the immune systems of people who have MS attempt to destroy the body's own myelin. Specifically, a type of white blood cell called a T-cell becomes sensitized against myelin self-antigens. These sensitized T-cells secrete various inflammatory mediators (including tumor necrosis factor, cytokines, and prostaglandins) that eventually strip away myelin and damage supportive cells, thereby incapacitating or destroying the axon (Kidd PM 2001). MS is thus an inflammatory autoimmune demyelinating disease.
Supplements that have been studied in animals and people with MS include:
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