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Lorenzo's Oil Lives Up to Its Billing

Treatment effective against genetic disorder called ALD, study finds

MONDAY, July 11, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- In an apparent case of life imitating art, Lorenzo's oil -- the subject of a 1992 movie starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon -- appears to reduce the risk of debilitating disease in boys with a genetic disorder called X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which damages nerve cells in the brain.

The study findings appear in an article in the July issue of the journal Archives of Neurology.

People with ALD accumulate high levels of very long-chain fatty acids in their brains. The disease can produce a number of different results, according to background information in the article. The rapidly progressive cerebral ALD (CERALD) type typically begins between ages 4 and 8 and quickly leads to total disability within a few years. An adult form progresses slowly and is far less disabling. Children who do not develop abnormalities as measured by magnetic resonance imaging by age 7 or clinical symptoms by age 10 have much less risk of developing cerebral ALD.

In 1989, one of the authors of the new study, Augusto Odone, pioneered a treatment -- Lorenzo's oil -- that was shown to normalize the levels of saturated very long-chain fatty acids within four weeks in most patients with ALD.

For the new study, researchers at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute in Baltimore treated 89 boys with ALD. The boys had no neurological symptoms and normal MRIs. They were treated with Lorenzo's oil and moderate dietary fat restrictions between 1989 and 2002, according to the study.

Sixty-four of the boys were younger than 7 years old when they began treatment. They were followed for an average of seven years.

The study found that 66 of the patients (74 percent) were well at the latest follow-up, 21 patients (24 percent) developed MRI abnormalities, and 10 patients (11 percent) developed neurological abnormalities.

The study found a significant association between the development of MRI abnormalities and an increase in levels of C26:0, a very long-chain fatty acid.

"Patients who had a neurological abnormality had significantly higher weighted average C26:0 levels than those who did not have an abnormality, suggesting that an LO (Lorenzo's oil)-induced decrease in the C26:0 level could protect against the inflammatory cerebral disease," the study authors wrote.

"We recommend that LO therapy be offered to male patients with ALD who are neurologically asymptomatic, have normal brain MRI results, and are at risk of developing CERALD," the authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about ALD.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, July 11, 2005
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