Gut Bacteria: Key to MS?

Gut Bacteria: Key to MS?

There has been a great deal of recent interest in the connection between nervous system function and the complex bacteria that are found in the gastrointestinal system, known as the gut microbiome. Some scientists believe that differences in the type of bacteria found in the gut may underlie neurological disease. In fact, it has been suggested by some that gut bacteria may interact with the immune system, in turn affecting autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS).

In MS, the body’s own immune system launches an attack against myelin. Myelin covers nerve fibers and insulates them, allowing fast and efficient communication in the nervous system. When the myelin is damaged by immune system cells, the symptoms of MS result, including loss of movement, pain, problems with sensation and vision loss. But what does this have to do with the stomach?

Plenty, according to a recent opinion paper titled “The Gut Microbiome in Multiple Sclerosis,” published in the April 7th issue of Current Options in Neurology. Daniel Mielcarz, PhD and Lloyd Kasper, MD, note that, “The gut microbiome has been shown to have profound effects on the development and maintenance of immune system in both animal models and in humans.” They further speculate that bacteria in the gut could influence immune responses, including the self-attacking responses of immune cells. In their article, the researchers note that there are several risk factors for MS that can cause changes in gut bacteria, which in turn might cause an immune response related to MS. Such changes include insufficient dietary vitamin D, smoking, and alcohol use. Fortunately, according to the authors, “Preliminary clinical trials aimed at modulating the gut microbiota in MS patients are underway and may prove to be a promising lower risk treatment option in the future.”

Hopefully, the new interest focusing on the gastrointestinal bacteria found in people with MS will provide more options and answers. New research initiatives, such as the National Institutes of Health’s Microbiome Project, may begin to provide more insight into whether these gastrointestinal bacteria indeed provide the answers to solve many diseases, or if the interest in gastrointestinal flora is simply a passing scientific fad.


  1. laura says:

    How does this work for people that have had the complete gastric bypass like myself? I had MS before and I still have MS. I really dont understand.

    • Mehdi says:

      Laura, most of your gut bacteria reside in the colon. They do not reside in the stomach or the small intestines. There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria in your colon responsible for food fermentation vs only 10 trillion human cells in your whole body! I don’t see how a gastric bypass would affect your gut flora! From nature, you know that evolution does not bring things into your body just for fun. The bacteria is responsible for immune, absorption and health roles and much more!

  2. Alisa Woods, PhD says:

    Keep in mind that this is highly theoretical right now–it’s just an idea and more research is needed. If there is a gut-link it could be for some but not all forms of MS. Also, there could be an initiating event via the gut. Finally, even if you had a complete bypass there could still be some remaining influences on the immune system. These are all just ideas though, you have to study many people to understand a possible biological influence. Researchers need to do more studies to validate this idea of the immune system-gastrointestinal link.

    • Martin Matko says:

      CCSVI is a treatable recognized medical condition, scientifically established in 42 neurological afflictions, and Multiple Sclerosis !

    • Mike says:

      When dxd. with MS went to medical school library and read every article and journal from 1950 until late 1990s…the advent of the MRI. Told doctor about gut ineraction as a result of this review over a dozen years ago. They literally laughed to my face. At the time I was developing severe symptomatology and loss of function. Altered my diet to remove anything that caused inflammation. Although remain unable to work am often shown to house officers who are amazed by the change in course of my illness. Now, All new patients are given dietary guidelines I followed. NONE of these ideas are mine. All came from physicians who were the Titans of this field but are forgotten as they did not have computers and MRI. Suggest you study the history of therapy pre MRI it is rife with research ideas.

  3. someone says:

    MS is caused by an intoxication of the Epsilon toxin produced by the C. Perfringens bacterium. C. Perf. bacteria colonizes the gut and spews the Epsilon toxin which permeates the lining entering the blood stream, passes thru the BBB and binds itself to Oligodentrocytes an Myelin. The immune system cleanses the body of the toxin by removing the toxin along with tissues. The immune system is working normal. This is not an auto-immune disease. This is effects of a very bad toxin. Fix the gut (good bacteria) and no more MS. Past neurological damage will have to be fixed by some other means.

  4. Heinz J. Mensing says:

    The whole idea is absurd.
    MS by definition is disseminated, asymmetric. Any influence from outside should be diffuse, symmetric. The concept makes no sense at all.

    The cause of MS has to be sought within the “active” lesions. (Learn German:) Read Gabriel Steiner “Multiple Sklerose…” 1962

    It has been known for many decades, even the transmission by ticks (G.Steiner review 1922) but simply ignored. With a little doxycycline MS can be stopped. I have done this for more than 15 years, it works.

    • Anonymous says:

      While asymmetric lesions do occur, lesions are symmetric more often than not. Please see the quotation and the corresponding link below from the University of California San Francisco MS Pathology website:

      “Plaques are often multiple (which can help with the clinical diagnosis) and frequently symmetrical (but not always!).”

      In fact early MS investigators, most notably James Walker Dawson who is revered in MS Pathology, was “struck” by the symmetry of lesions and concluded that MS might the result of a soluble toxin.

      • Anonymous says:

        Also, the lesions caused by epsilon toxin are focal and not diffuse. The disease in sheep is called Focal Symmetrical Encephalomalacia.

  5. Bernice Tennant says:

    which came first the chicken or the egg? There are many, many years of strong suspicion of a bacterial and environmental location assoc. and also for some a strong genetic connection. This all changes for a person if they move before the age of 15 from an environmental place common in MS populations. The overlapping illegible footprint of no two people alike makes the diagnostic and cause and effect process very difficult to determine unless Dawson’s Finger is a key point. And around and around and around we go. Part of the damage being asymmetrical and disseminated in space and time has been a longstanding determinations and a strong one. Dissemination in time and space is a part of the diagnostic criteria. I have had MS many long years before I developed a lot of gastrointestinal problems that are also blamed on the damage to the Vagus nerve causing Gastropareses.

  6. Montana says:

    I have been taking digestive enzymes for years (before diagnosis) and found them helpful in digestion. Does this mean that these enzymes may have caused or contributed to the MS or possibly possibly lessened the effects of MS????

    • Meg says:

      That is very unlikely. Dietary supplements – marketed as probiotics – are unable to colonize your GI tract. They simply form a first line of defense, which allows your resident gut flora a chance to flourish.

      My understanding with these studies is they want to try to figure out what types of bacteria are lacking in some patients, and perhaps replace them. Or replace the bacteria that keep the bad ones in check. The only way to effectively do so is to do a fecal transplant.

      Keep taking your probiotics. If they help your digestion, they are worth it. But I wouldn’t put too much weight on them as anything other than a very short term solution, that if maintained, provide some assistance. If stopped, you would quickly return to your old problems.

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