New hope

Testosterone plays many roles within all of us. It’s an in-built Personal Trainer obviously, powering us to a better physique and performance. It’s something of an internal matchmaker too, leaving us in no doubt when we find a potential partner we like.

Arguably more important than either of these though, it’s also a sort of bodily bouncer.

You may have heard recently that a man’s hormones leave him slightly more open to cold and flu. Well, that may be true, but equally there’s compelling evidence to suggest T is all that’s standing between guys and conditions a lot more serious than temporary coughs and sneezes.

Men and women’s hormonal balances are very different. So in any condition that unevenly affects one over the other, hormones are worth exploring. Multiple Sclerosis is a perfect example of this. It affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide, but studies report that men – who naturally produce about 7 to 10 times more T – are up to 4 times less likely to develop M.S.

Researchers have long suspected that testosterone may be key in the battle against this incredibly debilitating illness which currently has no cure. Up until now however, science has been unable to pinpoint the game changing role played of T.

Thanks to new work from Northwestern University though, all that could be about to change. The team believe they’ve isolated how T protects against M.S paving the way for desperately needed new treatments.

What is M.S?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder which causes the body’s own defences to mistakenly attack the central nervous system. This friendly fire targets something called the myelin, a substance which protects our vital nerve fibres. The damaged myelin is left with scars – sometimes called lesions or plaques – which stop messages going from the brain to parts of the body, interfering with normal function.

Because M.S effectively messes with your body’s control room, issues can vary from person to person.

Common symptoms include: vision problems, muscle pain or spasms, numbness of the limbs, cognitive impairment, balance problems and dizziness, along with weakness and fatigue.

Symptoms will often come and go. Once a nervous system pathway is blocked by scarring, the brain will find a new route for the same task. As the assault continues and more avenues cut off, symptoms can become more lasting. If the nerves themselves are damaged by it can result in severe and permanent disability.

In the same way that symptoms of M.S will vary, so will its course. Some will have problems that appear and disappear (Relapsing-Remitting M.S) others will see a steady progression (Secondary-Progressive M.S.).

Some cases, move quickly, some slowly while some reach a point and even appear to stop.

Feinberg Northwestern University, Chicago

How can T help?

Scary to read, never mind suffer. But that’s what makes this latest discovery form Northwestern so welcome.

A team led by Prof. Melissa Brown identified that T stimulates the cytokine IL-33. Why is this important? Well, in a mouse model of the condition, scientists were able to show that after upping of levels of this ‘guardian particle’ in female mice, their symptoms were eliminated.

The lead author said,

“Because testosterone levels are seven-to-eight times lower in adult women compared to men, we speculate there are insufficient levels in females to activate this protective pathway. But we showed we can activate the pathway with the guardian molecule, IL-33.”

There have been hints that T had something to offer before now. Pregnant women with M.S, whose hormones can change for instance, often see a let up in symptoms. Likewise male sufferers, treated with Testosterone Replacement Therapy can be given short term relief. The possibility of side effects of TRT long term, would seem to rule it out as a lasting answer however.

This trial shows that the increased IL-33 causes a flood of chemicals which prevent Th17 cells in male mice. Th17 cells are directly responsible for nerve demyelination. Female mice made greater levels of these cells, Brown believes due to a lack of IL-33.

“This suggests a mechanism for the reduced incidence of multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases in males compared to females …These findings could lead to an entirely new kind of therapy for MS, which we greatly need.”

Making the most of it

Any study still using four legged, furry cheese fans is clearly still in the frustratingly early stages of development. Hopefully though, given how distressing and limiting M.S can be, progress will be successful and rapid.

But what about making the most of your T in the meantime? Don’t panic, I’m not going to claim upping your T is a one size fits all D.I.Y treatment with a 100% success rate. If you’re suffering from or worried about M.S you should absolutely see a doctor before you do anything else.

Yet the Northwestern University study does show that higher T can give us the edge on this devastating affliction. So taking fairly minor steps to ensure you’re getting your peak natural output of T, through diet, exercise and safe supplementation is worth a try. That goes for women too by the way.

It’s worth pointing out that M.S tends to affect women earlier in life when their estrogen is highest and testosterone lowest, while men are most at risk later in life. Beyond the age of 30 a guy’s T will naturally start to fall by 1% a year, while estrogen starts to climb.

M.S is just one of many nasty things that keeping healthy levels of T could help you avoid. As we always say, done sensibly, you’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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