The secret to treating multiple sclerosis (MS) could lie in our own hormones. Can you believe it? Well, the results are preliminary, but still very fascinating.
MS is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS). That means the brain and the spinal cord. The way the disease works is pretty complex, but let’s take a look at the basics. In the CNS, a substance called “myelin” protects the nerve fibers and helps nerve impulses travel faster. When MS hits, the immune system attacks the myelin coating. It’s not known why this happens. This damage, referred to as “sclerosis,” disrupts the flow of nerve impulses along the fibers, meaning that the nervous system’s messages are not sent properly. MS is usually first diagnosed in people aged 15–40. It’s been found that women are more than twice as likely to develop this disease.
This unpredictable condition can progress differently among different people, causing a great variety of symptoms and symptom combinations, including fatigue, coordination problems, speech difficulties, bladder or bowel dysfunction, vision difficulties, loss of short-term memory, paralysis, decision-making problems, etc. It’s also been found that the brain of an MS sufferer shrinks more and more every year. MS can be relapsing-remitting, meaning that attacks will be followed by periods of remission. Or it can be progressive, meaning that the symptoms get progressively worse, without any periods of remission.
Since men don’t seem to be as prone to MS as women are, scientists have decided to look into the role of male hormones. In a small pilot study, researchers looked at 10 men with relapsing-remitting MS. For six months, the study researchers monitored the brains of the subjects, specifically checking the size of the brain, muscle mass, and thinking abilities. They used these results as a control. The next stage was to have the men treat themselves every day for a year with 10 g of 100 g testosterone gel. The patients applied the gel to their skin.
After the year of testosterone treatment, the researchers again took data on the brains and bodies of the MS sufferers. They found that the men’s brains had slowed down when it came to shrinkage. During the six-month period prior to the treatment, the subjects’ brains were decreasing in size by 0.81% every year. After the testosterone treatment, this had decreased to 0.25% per year. Quite a significant difference!
The researchers also found that the brain power of the MS sufferers had improved. On the same test given in the preliminary six-month period, the men showed a five- percent improvement. Considering that an MS patient’s thinking performance normally gets progressively worse, this is great news!
The study also found that the muscle mass in the men on testosterone gel treatment had bulked up by about 1.7 kg. This is significant because MS patients can have a lot of difficulty walking and with general movement. So, the testosterone gel might help strengthen their bodies.
There were no side effects reported in this pilot study. But it was short and small, so further studies are required to determine the safety of testosterone gel. Plus, a larger study involving both men and women with MS seems called for to see if the hormone supplement can be as effective in both sexes. Women are more likely to experience unpleasant side effects (e.g. unwanted hair growth, deepening voice, etc.). It’s not yet known exactly how testosterone works to fight the effects of MS. So, again, more scientific research is needed before MS patients can use this therapy.