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Myelin, a fatty substance that insulates nerve axons and facilitates nerve signal conduction, is produced by the oligodendrocytes of the central nervous system. Myelination, the process of accruing myelin, begins early in life and plays a critical role in cognitive development and life-long neuronal function. Findings from a new study suggest that N-acetylglucosamine, a sugar present in breast milk and widely available as a dietary supplement, promotes remyelination in people who have multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disorder characterized by an inability to remyelinate nerve axons subsequent to inflammatory damage. Symptoms of the disease vary and can include numbness or tingling in the limbs, difficulty walking, fatigue, and problems with vision and speech, among others. The disease affects more than 2 million people worldwide.

The rodent study investigated the role of N-acetylglucosamine in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. The authors of the study gave mice either N-acetylglucosamine or a placebo in their drinking water for three days. They assessed the mice for nerve axon damage and impaired motor function (likelihood of falling) while the mice walked on a spinning rod.

The authors found that administration of N-acetylglucosamine protected nerve axon damage and prevented motor function losses in the mice that received the N-acetylglucosamine. They also reported unpublished data indicating that people with multiple sclerosis who have low levels of serum N-acetylglucosamine typically experience a more progressive disease course and greater disability than those with higher levels of the compound.

Taken together, these findings demonstrate that N-acetylglucosamine may be beneficial in treating people who have multiple sclerosis. More research is needed to confirm this possibility.

Interestingly, some evidence suggests that people who have multiple sclerosis experience functional improvements with the fasting-mimicking diet, a dietary strategy that promotes immune cell turnover. Learn more about the fasting-mimicking diet and multiple sclerosis in this clip featuring Dr. Valter Longo.

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