You are home to millions of microscopic species, such as bacteria and fungi, living on your skin and hair and dispersed throughout your body. Some estimates suggest that there are at least as many bacterial cells in your body as cells belonging to you. The community of species living in your body is known as the microbiome.
Although it might be an unsettling thought, many of these microbiome species are beneficial to human health, indeed may even be necessary for our bodies to carry out essential functions. In general, healthy people have a broad diversity of microbiome species, where beneficial species outnumber the less beneficial types. A reduced number of microbiome species is linked to poorer health.
MS and the microbiome
The role of the microbiome in MS is at an early stage of research. However, people with MS appear to have a different microbiome to healthy people, particularly during a relapse.
The microbiome is implicated in all kinds of health issues including autoimmunity, inflammation, irritable bowel conditions, depression and mental illness. Researchers have identified ways in which the substances produced by microbes in our guts can influence the immune system and the blood-brain barrier, making this research very relevant to people with MS. Some beneficial bacteria produce short chain fatty acids and other substances that can calm inflammation throughout the body and brain. Other substances produced by the microbiome may be neuroprotective.
The microbiome community in your body can be changed very quickly by changes in your diet, or by taking antibiotics or other medicines. Populations of beneficial bacteria could be reduced or supported by the things you eat. Probiotics and prebiotics are substances that are widely claimed to boost beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Although studies do not all agree that probiotics and prebiotics are effective, they are generally safe to take. In tablet form, probiotics and prebiotics can be expensive. A cheaper way to improve your microbiome is just to increase the amount and diversity of plant foods in your diet, and eat live yoghurts.
- Scientific American: December 14, 2013 Popular article (full text) The Gut’s Microbiome Changes Rapidly with Diet
- Nutrition and Neuroscience. 2017 Mar 24:1-14. Summary The role of diet in multiple sclerosis: A review.
- European Journal of Nutrition 10 May 2018 (epub) Summary The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications
- Multiple Sclerosis Journal 2018 24:1 Summary Investigation of probiotics in multiple sclerosis
- Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 27;6:28484 Summary Multiple sclerosis patients have a distinct gut microbiota compared to healthy controls.