Diet Plays a Role in MS Progression Through Its Impact on Astrocytes, Researchers Say

Diet Plays a Role in MS Progression Through Its Impact on Astrocytes, Researchers Say

Dietary habits and the composition of the gut flora can influence neuroinflammation and affect the outcome of neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine and titled “Type I interferons and microbial metabolites of tryptophan modulate astrocyte activity and central nervous system inflammations via the aryl hydrocarbon receptor.

Astrocytes, the brain immune cells, play an important role during central nervous system injury and disease, and are thought to participate in the pathogenesis of MS. Although the microbial flora and its products have been shown to control T-cell inflammation, through mechanisms that include the production of immunoregulatory metabolites from precursors provided through diet, little is known about the effects of diet and microbial products on the inflammatory response of immune cells in the brain.

Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) used preclinical models of MS and samples from MS patients to find that modifications in the diet and gut flora also influence astrocytes in the brain.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation,” said Francisco Quintana, PhD,  the study’s senior author and an investigator in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH, in a press release. “What we eat influences the ability of bacteria in our gut to produce small molecules, some of which are capable of traveling all the way to the brain. This opens up an area that’s largely been unknown until now: how the gut controls brain inflammation.”

Researchers performed a genome-wide transcriptional analysis on astrocytes in a mouse model of MS, and saw that the majority of the genes whose expression was modified were linked to interferon I (IFN-I), a signaling pathway involved in the reduction of inflammation.

The team showed that molecules derived from dietary tryptophan, an amino acid found in a variety of foods — such as chocolate, milk, nuts, meats, beans, cheese, and eggs — are metabolized by the gut flora, and act in combination with IFN-I in astrocytes to limit brain inflammation. Interestingly, tryptophan-derived metabolites were found to be decreased in the blood of MS patients.

“Deficits in the gut flora, deficits in the diet, or deficits in the ability to uptake these products from the gut flora or transport them from the gut — any of these may lead to deficits that contribute to disease progression,” Dr. Quintana said.

In the future, researchers plan to investigate whether these findings can be translated into biomarkers for diagnosing and detecting disease advancement, or into new targets for therapeutic approaches for neurological disorders.


  1. So, basically this is agreeing with several books already out there, such as The Wahls Protocol, suggesting modifying diet, can aid MS?
    A sensible diet, if it helps, has to be better than spending the rest of your life, on drugs, with uncertain results.
    Do not expect instant results, but anything is worth a try.

  2. steven says:

    This is interesting because it flies against the Swank diet which limits meat consumption or that dairy is bad for MS. I don’t even know what to believe anymore

    • Mike says:

      Go to the “Overcoming MS” website. Get their book read it cover to cover it should give very good answers. Their diet is based on Swank but is much refined. Also compare the Wahl’s protocol. My son uses a combo in that he follows the OMS protocol and is gluten free, per Wahl’s. He has not had any flares in 4 yrs and his neurologist just told him he given as good a report to anyone. He has no symptoms at all. His lesions are healing, some gone, no new ones as verified by MRI. He is also on copaxone OMS does not tell you to quit taking your meds. Good luck.

  3. Shasha says:

    I can’t have gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO…take vitamins/good oils/minerals…probiotic…LDN..detox. I can’t have chocola te due to the kind of fat in it. Nuts…need to open shells to avoid hidden gluten on them. I can’t eat meat…clogs my blood vessels. I eat Veg/rice/tea/organic antibiotic free, cage free eggs/raw walnuts (open shells to avoid gluten) and more. I try to eat organic/good water/sunlight/exercise.

  4. Alissa Slack says:

    I was diagnosed with MS in 2007. My neurologist who is also vegan recommended books by Swank and Dr. John McDougall. Dr. McDougall emailed me personally for the first few months following my diagnosis. I am 47 years old. I follow a low fat vegan diet and exercise 60 minutes every day. I have never taken MS medication and have no regrets.

  5. Nikki says:

    Hi-unfortunately, there is no magic bullet or cure for MS.
    For each person it depends on where the brain lesions are located and what symptoms and challenges it causes. So what works for one person-may not work for another person in the same way; Each of our bodies is genetically different too. However I believe eating a lowfat diet with vegetables and fruit daily, exercising several times per week (walking, bike riding, or doing stretching), and getting the emotional support one needs via a support group or even a friend who has MS works as a whole package in the fight against MS. Most of us who have MS will have “up and down” times and some people may do even better with hardly any symptoms or relapses and that is wonderful! But it is individual and based on location of brain lesions, nerve damage, etc. What we can do is our best-just never give up!

    • Shasha says:

      I need fat…brain is made of fat and cell membranes…but can’t have saturated/monounsaturated fat. I take fish oil/evening primrose oil/krill oil/lecithin/phosphatidylserine/DMAE/CLA and more. I eat raw walnuts (open shells to avoid hidden gluten and freeze so fresh). I eat poached organic eggs. No dairy or meat. I take Osteoprocare instead of dairy. I can’t have heated oils or flax or rancid or dehydrated food. My skin is dry…may need more fat.
      Best wishes.

  6. Gracie Moore says:

    This is SO frustrating! Yet another article that sets you up for the expectation that they are actually going to tell you something useful — then doesn’t. WHAT diet? WHAT molecules in the gut? Chocolate and milk — really? I only wish that in the 41 years I have had this that one person, one time, could tell me one thing that would help. But no.

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