Many suffering with painful and swollen joints turn to glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride to find relief. But there’s another form of glucosamine that’s not ordinarily used to treat arthritis pain. And now, this largely forgotten form of glucosamine is offering new hope for restoring neurological function in people with multiple sclerosis.
Let’s take a closer look at the results of an exciting new trial on N-acetylglucosamine.
Glucosamine is a fundamental component of cartilage, joints, and connective tissues. That’s why the regular forms of this nutrient are often taken to help with pain and stiffness in these areas.
But N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) is different. GlcNAc has different mechanisms of action and additional properties so its impact on the body goes well beyond your joints and their connective tissue.
Reduces Inflammatory Bowel Symptoms
N-acetylglucosamine is up to twenty times more powerful than other forms of glucosamine in producing intestinal mucin, the gel that protects the lining of the intestine from damage. Two clinical trials show GlcNAc can markedly reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in both adults and children.
The research shows that it also improves skin hydration, removes dark spots (irregular pigmentation) on the skin and speeds up wound healing. It’s unique benefits drew the attention of researchers examining new treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS).
In MS the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the central nervous system including the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. Conventional medicine doesn’t have much to offer in the way of help for this disease.
Over the last two decades, Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD at UC Irvine Health in Orange County, CA, has investigated the potential of N-acetylglucosamine to treat MS. Could this natural therapy really help?
N-acetylglucosamine Prevents Paralysis
The first important study, published in 2007, demonstrated that in mice GlcNAc suppressed the damaging autoimmune response seen in both multiple sclerosis and type-1 diabetes.
Dr. Demetriou commented at that time: “This finding shows the potential of using a dietary supplement to help treat autoimmune diseases. Excitement for this treatment strategy stems from the novel mechanism… and the availability and simplicity of its use.”
In a follow up study published four years later, Dr. Demetriou and his team used an animal model of MS called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. It showed that N-acetylglucosamine given orally to mice with leg weakness reversed the progression to paralysis.
In both these and other cellular studies, a great deal was learned regarding the mechanism behind the improvements seen. After many years of lab work it was time to test the remedy on humans in clinical study.
Reduces Inflammation and Neurodegeneration
In the first study, published in 2020, researchers evaluated 180 MS patients to see if the tests carried out in mice showing that N-acetylglucosamine promoted the repair of myelin applied to humans. To the delight of Dr. Demetriou’s laboratory team the answer was yes.
They published their results in the Journal of Neuroinflammation in September 2023. They examined thirty-four patients taking glatiramer acetate – a drug that treats those with relapsing forms of MS – and either a six- or 12-gram dose of N-acetylglucosamine for four weeks. The researchers found that GlcNAc reduced multiple markers of inflammation and neurodegeneration.
First author Michael Sly also told of another finding. “We also observed a sustained reduction in neurological disability in 30 percent of the patients, an activity which has not been observed with current FDA approved therapies. They at best slow progression, not improve function.”
That’s a remarkable finding, even in the small number of patients. But it’s not the first time N-acetylglucosamine has been found to improve the health of people with MS.
Studies since 2007 show N-acetylglucosamine suppresses brain inflammation, promotes the repair and re-growth of the myelin sheath, slows brain degeneration, and reduces disability.
How can such a simple compound achieve all this? Almost all proteins on the surface of cells, including immune cells such as T-cells, are modified by sugar molecules. Recent studies show changes in these sugars are often linked with the T-cell hyperactivity that gives rise to autoimmune disease.
N-acetylglucosamine targets and acts on these sugar molecules. This produces changes in the T-cell proteins which bring their hyperactivity to a stop. Now they no longer direct the immune system to attack and break down central nervous system tissue such as myelin. This applies even if MS is triggered by a genetic defect that’s responsible for inducing T-cells to attack the body.
Consistent with these findings, other labs found the lower a marker of N-acetylglucosamine in the blood of MS patients, the greater their clinical disability and extent of demyelination and neurodegeneration. Other studies also found older healthy humans have elevated serum GlcNAc levels.
In other words, there appears to be a relationship between strong N-acetylglucosamine levels and strong health.
While these findings offer much hope for people with MS, Dr. Demetriou cautions that his latest study involved a small number of patients over a short period of time and didn’t have a placebo group.
“Future studies demonstrating that N-acetylglucosamine can restore neurological function in MS patients would be a gamechanger and provide something that no other current therapy can do,” he said.
The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team