A hormone called estriol (also known as oestriol) which is produced in higher amounts during pregnancy may be used in the future for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
A group of 158 women who have the most common form, relapsing-remitting MS was studied by Rhonda Voskuhl of the Univeristy of California, Los Angeles and her colleagues.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed at 16 locations in the United States. Daily doses of 8 mg of estriol were given to 86 women with multiple sclerosis in addition to their medication Copaxone (glatiramer acetate).
Relapsing-remitting MS has periodic symptom flares which are then followed by recovery from symptoms.
After a year of estriol, it was found that there were 47 percent fewer flares in the estriol group than in the control group which was taking Copaxone and placebo. After two years had passed, the rate of relapse was 32 percent less than that of the control group.
The women who had received estriol also had scored better in cognitive testing, on average about 6 percent better. Speculation was that damaged brain cells could have been repaired.
After two years, even the women on the medication and placebo improved. The improvements took longer though and were not as great as in the women taking the drug and estriol.
The results of the preliminary Phase II clinical trial was reported upon at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting held in Philadelphia on April 29, 2014.
Medications presently used for MS can cost as much as $60,000 annually. They help to reduce relapses, and inhibit disease progression somewhat but they do not cure multiple sclerosis.
Voskuhl and Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland advise against women attempting to treat their MS on their own because more research is needed.
Estriol is sold in Europe in hormone replacement therapies for osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Estriol has been used safely in Europe and Asia for many years.
Unlike most MS medications, estriol can be administered in a pill rather than an injection.