I remember watching the 1992 film “Lorenzo’s Oil” in middle school science class.
Based on a true story, the film is about a boy named Lorenzo Odone. He is diagnosed with a rare disease called adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) after he begins to experience seizures, hearing loss, a lack of balance, and other neurological symptoms.
Doctors said that without a cure or treatment, Lorenzo had less than 2 years to live. His parents refused to accept the grim prognosis and found what seemed to be a cure, made with fatty acids prepared from olive and rapeseed oils.
You may wonder whether this cure, dubbed “Lorenzo’s oil,” is truly a miracle treatment for ALD as depicted in the film, or if it’s an elixir with no scientific backing.
This article explains everything you need to know about Lorenzo’s oil, including how it works, its benefits and downsides, and dosing information.
Lorenzo’s oil is a 4:1 mixture of glyceryl trioleate and glyceryl trierucate (
Glyceryl trioleate is also known as triolein. It’s derived from oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid naturally found in olive oil, meat, cheese, nuts, milk, and avocados (2).
Glyceryl trierucate is derived from erucic acid. This is another type of monounsaturated fatty acid, found in rapeseed and mustard seed oils and in fatty fish like mackerel and salmon (
It’s been suggested that Lorenzo’s oil can block an enzyme involved in the production of saturated very-long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs), such as hexacosanoic acid, in the body. This could help normalize high VLCFA levels (
VLCFAs play many important roles related to skin barrier health, vision, and nerve function. However, a buildup of VLCFAs in the body’s tissues can lead to severe health problems and possibly even death.
Lorenzo’s oil is a 4:1 mixture of two long-chain fatty acids called glyceryl trioleate and glyceryl trierucate.
Lorenzo’s oil was introduced in 1989 for the treatment of ALD (
ALD is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that occurs in children. It’s caused by a genetic mutation that prevents the normal metabolism of VLCFAs, causing them to build up in the skin, eyes, and brain. This can lead to inflammation and oxidative damage.
Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) is a similar condition that occurs in adults.
In 1989, researchers treated 12 newly diagnosed children with ALD with a diet enriched with erucic and oleic acids. The treatment lowered hexacosanoic acid concentrations to normal levels. It even halted the disease’s progression in two of the participants for nearly 2 years (
Older research, although it is of low quality, has also demonstrated that Lorenzo’s oil can decrease VLCFAs in the blood and tissues and slow ALD progression — but only in people without existing ALD symptoms or signs of brain inflammation (
More recently, there has been a lack of studies examining the effectiveness of Lorenzo’s oil for treating ALD, so more research is needed on the topic.
Because erucic acid boasts antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, researchers speculate that it could also be useful for treating other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (
However, no studies to date have examined the effects of erucic acid or Lorenzo’s oil for these conditions.
Lorenzo’s oil has been investigated as a treatment for ALD with some success in people without symptoms. Researchers also wonder whether it could be beneficial for other neurodegenerative diseases, but no data exists on the topic.
Early studies have suggested that Lorenzo’s oil may reduce the severity of symptoms in people with ALD, resulting in a better quality of life.
Indeed, the oil dramatically improved Lorenzo’s condition in the film. It also helped prevent neurological problems in other children with ALD who were treated with the oil earlier in the course of their disease.
However, based on the available evidence, the oil’s ability to improve Lorenzo’s condition after he was already displaying neurological symptoms is likely a stretch (
In fact, research suggests that Lorenzo’s oil doesn’t improve symptoms or slow the disease’s progression in people with advanced ALD who are already experiencing neurological symptoms.
Outside of its therapeutic role in treating ALD, there are likely no other benefits to Lorenzo’s oil.
By normalizing VLCFA levels, Lorenzo’s oil can possibly slow ALD progression and delay symptoms in the early stages of the condition. However, it may not benefit those who are already experiencing symptoms.
Initially, there were concerns surrounding the safety of Lorenzo’s oil because erucic acid oils had been found to cause heart disease in rodents (
However, subsequent studies in primates and eventually humans have not demonstrated any adverse heart effects.
Still, moderate reductions in platelet counts have been observed in some people treated with Lorenzo’s oil. This can potentially cause internal bleeding or a weakened immune system, so it’s worth keeping in mind during treatment (
Studies have otherwise demonstrated that Lorenzo’s oil is safe and well-tolerated (
Although Lorenzo’s oil is relatively safe and well-tolerated, it’s been shown to reduce platelet counts in some people with ALD.
Studies have administered Lorenzo’s oil at daily doses of 0.9–1.4 mL per pound (2–3 mL per kg) of body weight for 3–10 years. This dose provides approximately 20% of your total daily calories (
If using this oil for ALD treatment, you must limit your intake of other dietary fat. Getting more than 35% of daily calories from fat — including those from Lorenzo’s oil — could reduce the oil’s VLCFA-lowering effects (
It’s best to work out the dosing with your doctor and get help from a dietitian to monitor your fat intake.
The Food and Drug Administration has not approved Lorenzo’s oil as a prescription drug. Still, it’s sometimes used as an experimental treatment, either alone or in combination with other therapies for ALD.
Most studies to date have administered a daily dose of 0.9–1.4 mL per pound (2–3 mL per kg) of body weight of Lorenzo’s oil for the treatment of ALD.
Lorenzo’s oil is is a liquid made up of 4 parts glyceryl trioleate and 1 part glyceryl trierucate.
The oil is named after Lorenzo Odone, a boy with ALD whose parents discovered a mixture of specific fatty acids that seemed to improve the disease.
Based on available evidence, Lorenzo’s oil appears to slow ALD progression and the onset of symptoms — but only in those without existing ALD symptoms or evidence of brain inflammation.
If you’re interested in learning whether Lorenzo’s oil is a suitable treatment option for you or someone you know with ALD, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional who can provide tailored advice.
Just one thing
Try this today: For a natural boost of erucic acid fats, try cooking up this recipe for pesto salmon skewers.