Aldrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a hereditary disease, passed from mother to son through a genetic defect that allows a buildup of body fats that destroy the myelin sheath surround the nerves. Deafness, blindness, dementia and paralysis mark the progress of the disease, which ends in death, usually within two years after diagnosis.
In the mid-1980s, an Australian couple found that oleic acid, found in olive oil, seemed to help the buildup of fats in their ALD-afflicted son's blood. Together with scientists, they later determined that combining it with erucic acid, an extract of rapeseed, made an even more effective treatment. Other ALD children who have been given the oil at an early stage of the disease are now said to be leading normal, or near-normal, lives. There is, however, medical controversy about this and also possible implication for multiple sclerosis, which also attacks the nerves' myelin sheath. The couple have initiated the Myelin Project for further research on repair of the myelin sheath and have created an international task force of people to apply abstract science to a very practical end. The story is told in the film Lorenzo's Oil.
ALD is rare, and is frequently misdiagnosed. It affects too small a number of children to make a search for treatment profitable.