Can 'Good' Cholesterol Protect Against MS?

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Updated: 6/11 10:24 am

Nov. 12, 2013 -- A protein found in HDL, or ''good,'' cholesterol may help protect against the effects of multiple sclerosis, according to new research.

In the study, patients with MS had much lower levels of the protein than did healthy people, says study researcher Lidia Gardner, PhD. She is an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Those with more severe forms of MS, known as progressive, had even lower levels of the protein than those with a milder form called relapsing-remitting. The protein is known as ApoA1.

ApoA1 is the main component of HDL. It is known to protect the body from inflammation.

In MS patients,  inflammation occurs when the body's immune system attacks cells of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve.

Gardner presented the findings Monday at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in San Diego.

"I think it's an interesting preliminary study that has potential [applications] for people living with MS,'' says Bruce Bebo, PhD. He is associate vice president of discovery research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He was not involved in the study.

Comparing Protein Levels in Patients

Gardner and her team took blood samples from four groups. They included a group without MS and a group for each of the three forms of MS.

Compared to those without MS, all the MS patients had lower levels of the cholesterol protein. This was true no matter what type of MS they had. It was reduced by 25% in people with relapsing remitting MS, 50% in people with secondary progressive MS, and 75% in people with primary progressive MS.

Conflicting Discoveries

"I think you have to take the findings with some caution, because they are very preliminary," Bebo says.

Other research has looked at prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, to increase good cholesterol in MS patients. The studies have produced conflicting findings, Gardner says.

She plans to focus next on the process of making and then increasing ApoA1 to help.

For now, lifestyle changes such as eating a vegetarian, vegan, or low-fat diet may help boost levels of the cholesterol protein, Gardner says. Exercise may also help.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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