How Scientists Aim To Slow MS Progression By Targeting The Gut Microbiome

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. People with MS will suffer symptoms such as numbness, mood changes, memory problems, or paralysis. MS affects up to 1 million people in the United States. Because there is no cure for MS, researchers are looking for new ways to treat the progression of the disease.

According to a 2022 article in Cureus, using interferons to treat MS can aggravate MS, cause depression, or affect a person's walking. Other treatments have side effects, ranging from urinary tract infections to cancer. Eating a diet rich in fatty acids, polyphenols, and antioxidants such as vitamin D, curcumin, and vitamin A help reduce oxidative stress to ease MS. However, researchers are turning to the gastrointestinal tract because the central nervous system and GI tract are linked. They work together in regulating our mood, cognition, immune system, and mental health. What goes on in the gut can influence the neurotransmitters in the brain and vice versa.

Identifying differences in the gut in people with MS

A 2022 study in Frontiers in Immunology found an antimicrobial protein called Lcn-2 in the stool of people with MS. This protein is typically connected with lower diversity of gut bacteria and increased inflammation in the gut. Certain bacteria that typically reduce inflammatory bowel disease are lower in people with MS if they have high levels of this protein. The researchers determined that this protein could be key in determining the health of the gut microbiome of people with MS.

A 2022 study in Cell compared the gut microbiome of 576 people with MS to 1,152 healthy people. People with MS had significantly different proportions and strains of bacteria in their gut compared to healthy people. The researchers identified specific strains of microbes that are associated with MS. They also noticed that people who were treated with interferon for their MS had more short-chain fatty acids in their blood than in their gut compared to untreated MS patients. Because short-chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, the researchers said the interferon helps in moving these helpful metabolites throughout the body.

Can altering the gut microbiome ease MS?

Our gut microbiota can have a significant effect on our immune system. The gut can regulate immune cells that influence the immune response in other areas of the body, including our central nervous system, according to a 2022 study in Nature Reviews Neurology. Therefore, improving the health of our gut microbiome might help with neuroinflammatory diseases such as MS.

A 2017 study in Clinical Nutrition tested the effects of taking probiotics to ease symptoms of MS. Thirty people with MS took a probiotic capsule for 12 weeks while 30 people with MS took a starch pill as a placebo. Taking the probiotic improved their mental health, disability status, and inflammatory factors compared with the control group.

A 2018 article in Annals of Neurology also looked at how probiotics might boost the immune response of people with MS. Nine people with MS took a probiotic twice a day for two months while 13 served as the control group. The probiotic improved the immune response and reduced organisms linked to a gut imbalance in people with MS.