Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Its exact cause is unknown, but research has found that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its development. See the latest findings of the gut health connection in MS patients here.

The gut and brain are connected in a way that might produce significant benefits for those with MS. In fact, early research suggests that the bacteria in the gut may influence the severity of MS, which is terrifying because the disease is progressive.

One of the favorite symptoms of MS is weakness due to loss of fine motor skills, which results in tremors.

Michael Ferguson, PhD, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The impact of MS on the nervous system in a particular area can have very damaging consequences for movement and balance.

Michael Ferguson, PhD

Fat, Fluids and Gut Health

To help visualize the microbiome in the human body, consider that a “food arriving via the intestine, will go directly to the liver,” explains Ferguson. After this tiny structure has processed the contents of the microbiome, the bacteria will move to the brain to be ‘trained’ to send the right signals to other parts of the body and, ultimately, to heal the central nervous system.

Importance of Gut Health

It’s thought that gut health may influence both cognitive ability and neurological function. One such area of study that has applied to the gut-brain connection is memory. It’s one of the most know neuropsychiatric diseases and research shows that MS patients with certain genetic backgrounds may display a smaller gap between the bacteria in their gut and the rest of the microbiome. Those with a different genetic background may not have this ‘gut-brain connection’ to the same degree.

Researchers believe this gut health connection may be at play. Because the microbiome has a strong influence on learning and memory. Having a microbiome in sync with a healthy gut. Sends a clear signal to the brain, including the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Which may have a direct impact on mood swings.

Is there a Gut Brain connection in MS?

However, the connection goes both ways, because the connections between our gut and brain are strengthened by the healthy bacteria our gut produces.

Our studies indicate that the neuropsychiatric effects of MS can be traced to the gut-brain connection.


Digestion, Cardio and the gut

Discovering the role the bacteria in our digestive system may play in neurological function. Is not a surprise. Insulin digestion, exercise, stress, anxiety and depression are all linked to changes in our brain. Although many are not caused by an inflammatory response; instead, researchers believe that stress-related changes to the brain are the result of damage to the gut-brain connection.

Although the exact mechanisms relating digestion to the brain are still unknown. There are certain reports that excess bad bacteria may play a role.

A healthy gut has been linked to a host of health issues. From immunity to digestion, and these benefits extend beyond MS. For example, research has identified certain substances secreted by the gut microbiome. Could play an important role in mitigating cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study published in JAMA Neurology. Followed 70 patients with newly diagnosed MS. And found those with the highest levels of gut bacteria had a 52% lower risk of developing the disease during follow-up.

Gut health and MS

“The bacteria in the gut play an enormous role in immunity,” says study author Lu Qi, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Autonomic Studies at Mount Sinai Hospital and researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Now that we know gut health has a role in brain health. It’s not surprising that it’s connected to cognitive impairment.

Lu Qi, PhD

The researchers also discovered gut bacteria not only influences MS symptoms (such as muscle weakness and difficulty in walking). But also plays a key role in maintaining balance between the immune system and inflammatory cells. MS triggers a neuroinflammatory process that damages the brain’s immune cells. According to Qi, and gut bacteria can influence the brain’s response to the virus.

Gut health and MS may also be connected in other ways, such as the brain’s response to stress.

We found mice lacking messenger RNA. Associated with the bacteria in the gut displayed changes in behavior and physiology that were similar to people with MS.

Lu Qi, PhD

Promoting Gut Health and autonomic studies

This study is not unique. Qi has discovered that gut bacteria and MS behave similarly, hypothesizing that gut bacteria somehow influence the balance of inflammatory cells.

These hormones work in concert to decide when the immune system attacks the body or when the body attacks itself.

Lu Qi, PhD

To find out how. Qi sought to identify factors that may influence the ability of the bacteria in the gut to fight inflammation.

Researchers looked at genetic variants that relate to the gut microbiome. And conducted studies to manipulate those genes to see how they impacted MS symptoms.

Findings from the first study revealed certain bacterial components moderate the symptoms of MS. Including cytokines, particularly interferon-alpha and tumel adhesion molecule, which have been linked to immune system issues in individuals with MS.

A second lead involved transmetabolic pathways, proteins involved in the breakdown and synthesis of proteins.

A study published in Frontiers in Experimental Neurology. Found insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 plays a key role in gut microbiomes.

Lu Qi, PhD

The work of Li Qi has been furthered by Francis Gamalgo.

Gut Microbiome Evidence

There is strong evidence that the gut microbiota plays a role in central nervous system function.

Francis Gamaldo, PhD, of the Catholic University of Rome.

He cites several studies linking the microbiota to neurological function. Including understanding how pain is processed, putting food in the proper “mouth” and calming those who are stressed and anxious.

“What is missing,” says Gamaldo, “is a mechanism in the central nervous system. That could be modulated by the gut microbiota. That would allow us to respond appropriately to the environment it is presented with.”

While food-gut connections are well-established. In other areas of the body (including immune response, blood clotting and immune response to viruses). It’s unclear whether it extends to the midbrain. The ancient part of the neurological system that links to emotion, motivation and awareness.

The Emotional Influence

Researchers have begun to explore this connection through an increasing number of systems. Chemical messengers responsible for transmitting messages between parts of the brain and body; how the gut influences mood, sensation, hunger and more; what it does in the brain to regulate movement, learning and memory; and how it influences memory in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Gamaldo and the Institute of Neurosciences at the Vatican, where he is director of research, are leading that effort. Their latest work points to gut bacteria as being involved.

For example, an initial examination in adults with MS. Found the extent to which the microbiota in the gut influences cognition. Was similar to that seen in normally developing adults.

“Both conditions are believed to be caused by a strategic disruption of the integrity of the gastrointestinal system,” explains Gamaldo. “That example shows us how important interaction between the cells lining the digestive tract is.”

The research also shows an association between MS symptoms. (A drop in brain volume or signal disruption in the midbrain area). And a decrease in diversity in the gut microbiota, or the different kinds of bacteria in the gut. Their work suggests changes occurring in the gut microbiota may alter the brain to change symptoms in MS.

Strong Gut Brain Connection

“The gut-brain connection is strong because there is an interaction between the brain and the gastrointestinal system,” says Jon Ward, PhD, another of the paper’s authors. “What needs to get carried out is a coordinated action on the gut and the brain. If the right actions are not achieved, there is potential for disease.”

Focusing on specific bacterial strains in the gut, in particular, Propionibacterium acnes, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, may be the key to triggering the desired response.

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