Text Size: a  |   a 

The Role of Gut Bacteria in MS

October 5, 2016

It has been discovered that leaky gut syndrome could be a potential cause of MS. However, researchers were unsure of its role or ho it may lead to the disease.

An imbalance in gut bacteria might set off alarm bells that lead the body to overreact and attack itself — causing autoimmune disease. Researchers cannot say for an absolute fact that the microbiome is linked to autoimmune disease, but more and more evidence is pointing in that direction.

“We know that MS is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but these are only partially understood,” says Ilana Katz Sand, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and associate medical director of the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Most of the environmental contribution to MS remains unexplained.”

Given the interactions between gut microbiota and the immune system, it’s plausible “that certain microbes could improperly stimulate the immune system and contribute to MS,” Dr. Katz Sand says.

“Our knowledge about the connection between the gut microbiome and multiple sclerosis is still very limited,” Dr. Mazmanian says. “However, several groups are now studying whether the microbiome impacts MS in humans and mouse models.”

More and more studies are finding links between the microbiota in the gut and MS. Unpublished study results presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology found differences in the bacterial composition of children with MS versus those without. Another study presented at the same meeting found reduced multiple sclerosis-like symptoms in mice when the mice were given yeast, and yet another study presented at the 2014 annual meeting found changes in the gut bacteria of people with MS when they had certain treatments.

However, researchers do not believe that treating gut bacteria alone will cure MS.

If gut bacteria are playing a role in MS, as scientists suspect and as evidence is suggesting, they’re not doing it all on their own. Several other factors have been linked to multiple sclerosis, such as smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and high sodium intake.

“As with any promising early research, there are sure to be less scrupulous people trying to sell MS treatments related to the gut microbiome that have not been subjected to rigorous clinical trials,” Mielcarz says.