A diet rich in cholesterol may help people suffering from a fatal genetic disease that damages the brain, a new study in mice has claimed.

The study, published in journal Nature Medicine, showed that a high-cholesterol diet could increase production of a fatty sheath around the mice's nerves, which is essential for function.

Patients with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD), one of many leukodystrophies, struggle to produce the myelin sheath which protects nerve fibres and helps messages pass along the nerves. Without the sheath, messages do not travel down the nerve — resulting in a range of problems including movement and cognition, the BBC reported.

But, researchers who carried out the trial on mice at Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Germany found the mice who ate a high cholesterol diet “improved dramatically“.

The first tests were carried out when the mice were six weeks old, after signs of PMD had already emerged. Those fed a normal diet continued to get worse, while those fed a cholesterol-enriched diet stabilised.

However, the researchers said the study was only in mice and it's not known whether there would be a similar effect in people.

(This article was published on June 18, 2012)
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