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Study: Estriol helps reduce relapses, protects brain in women with MS

12/1/2015

Taking the pregnancy hormone estriol along with conventional medications helped patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis avoid relapses, according to results of a Phase II randomized, placebo-controlled study led by UCLA researchers.

Study's lead author Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl, professor in the UCLA Department of Neurology and director of UCLA's Multiple Sclerosis Program, and her team discovered that estriol reduces the ability of immune cells to attack the brain, while also making brain cells more resistant to damage if any immune cells do make it through. They also 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.

In 2002, Voskuhl completed the pilot study, in which 10 nonpregnant women with MS were given estriol, yielding a greater than 70 percent drop in inflammatory lesions in the brain within only six months of treatment. In the Phase II study, researchers enrolled women 164 patients, with 83 allocated to the estriol group and 81 to the placebo group. The team found that the patients taking estriol had a third to a half as many relapses compared to those taking the placebo, with this improvement occurring over and above that provided by their conventional treatment. In addition, when estriol levels were the highest, there was improved cognitive function and less atrophy of the brain area related to cognition. The treatment was well tolerated during the two years the volunteers took estriol and the only significant side effect was irregular menstruation.

Voskuhl hopes to see a Phase III trial conducted to replicate these findings.

The study was published in Lancet Neurology.



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