Surprisingly Probiotics May Have a Positive Role for Multiple Sclerosis
Probiotics could have a positive role for people with multiple sclerosis. One probiotic in particular was explored in a small study to find out if could help with newly diagnosed MS.
Using probiotics for multiple sclerosis may sound like a crazy idea. Aren’t probiotics usually used for conditions that affect the intestinal tract? What possible help could beneficial bacteria be in a disease that is characterized by damage to the nerve cells?
Yes, probiotics are often associated with gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and constipation but they also have been shown to be helpful in supporting the immune system. After all, MS is an autoimmune disease, so it is feasible for friendly bacteria to play a positive role in multiple sclerosis.
Probiotics and multiple sclerosis
Another possible relationship between probiotics and multiple sclerosis can be seen in recent research which suggests inflammatory bowel disease is like MS. One common characteristic of the two conditions is leaky gut, and probiotics can be beneficial in alleviating this problem since they help restore a healthy balance in the gut.
More evidence that beneficial bacteria could be helpful in multiple sclerosis comes from numerous research studies. One such report appeared recently in Brain, Behavior and Immunity. In it, the authors explained that the microorganisms (microbiome) in the gut “has the capacity to effect both local and distal sites within the host” and that these organisms have “played a crucial role in the bidirectional gut-brain axis that integrates the gut and central nervous system activities.”
In fact, the authors point out the relationship between the gut and MS in particular, saying that “the microbiome poises the peripheral immune homeostasis and predisposes host susceptibility to CNS autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.” The idea that probiotics can be effective in managing multiple sclerosis is also supported by other research.
For example, in a review appearing in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, the author noted three factors that can support development of autoimmune disease and thus also suggest probiotics can be helpful for prevention and treatment: an imbalance of microorganisms in the gut, leaky gut, and an altered immune system response in the intestinal tract.
This author says there is “fairly promising evidence to recommend” probiotics for autoimmune disorders, but also says they should not be recommended as the primary way to prevent or treat such conditions for now.
A small phase I study looked at the use of a probiotic (Trichuris suis) in five individuals who had just been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). None of the patients had received any other treatments before entering the trial.
The volunteers were given the probiotic treatment orally every two weeks for three months. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed to check for the appearance of lesions. The mean number of new lesions dropped from 6.6 at the beginning of the trial to 2.0 at the end of treatment.
Two months after probiotic treatment ended, the mean number of lesions climbed to 5.8. This was the first human study to use this novel probiotic in RRMS, and the finding suggests the probiotic was beneficial in managing the disease.
For now, research into the risks and benefits of probiotics in the prevention and treatment of multiple sclerosis is in its infancy. However, several things indicate the use of probiotics for multiple sclerosis is something to consider seriously:
- The positive results seen in numerous studies when beneficial bacteria are used for gastrointestinal conditions
- The apparent link between the gut, inflammatory bowel disease and MS
- The fact that many people with multiple sclerosis experience intestinal disorders and could be helped by probiotics
- Probiotics are safe, easy to take in supplement form, and may also boost the immune system
Fleming JO et al. Probiotic helminth administration in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis: a phase 1 study. Multiple Sclerosis 2011 Jun; 17(6): 743-54
Ozdemir O. Any role for probiotics in the therapy or prevention of autoimmune diseases? Up-to-date review. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 2013 Aug 6:10
Wang Y, Kasper LH. The role of microbiome in central nervous system disorders. Brain, Behavior and Immunity 2014 May; 38:1-2