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Safe Form of Estrogen Helped MS Patients Avoid Relapse

December 1, 2015

The pregnancy hormone estriol along with other conventional medications helped patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) avoid relapses. This, according to the results of a Phase II randomized, controlled study led by a team of researchers from UCLA.

It has been long known that pregnant women with RRMS were known to have reduced relapses during the second half of their pregnancy. This study, published in Lancet Neurology, was able to prove that increased estriol in the blood suppressed a woman’s immune system. The suppression was key because the fetus was not seen as foreign, as it had half of the father’s proteins.

"The beauty of estriol is that it is not a shot and can be taken in pill form, and also that it's not a new drug. It has decades of safety behind it," said lead author Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl, who holds the Jack H. Skirball Chair for Multiple Sclerosis in the UCLA Department of Neurology. "Also, current MS treatments are very complex to manufacture. These findings hopefully will pave the way for oral, safe treatments that are more widely accessible, since estriol is simple and naturally occurring."

Voskuhl and her team discovered that estriol potentially provides a great boost against the disease, reducing the ability of immune cells to attack the brain, as well as making brain cells more resistant to damage if any immune cells do make it through. Specifically, they showed that estriol treatment improved cognition and prevented atrophy of the cognitive region of the brain. It seems that during pregnancy, estriol can both suppress the immune system and protect the brain, for not only is it important to avoid rejection of the fetus as foreign, it is also critical to protect the developing fetal brain.