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Stomach bacteria might protect against MS

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Author: MS Trust

A study in Australia suggests that women infected with the common stomach bug Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) have a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

In this study 550 people with MS and 299 controls were tested to see if they were infected with H.pyloriH.pylori is a bacteria that is found in the stomach of more than 50% of the world's population. Most people are infected before the age of two and will remain infected for life. H.pylori doesn't usually cause symptoms, but in some people it can cause stomach ulcers.

The study found that H.pylori infection is more common in women who do not have MS and less common in women with MS suggesting that H.pylori infection may reduce the risk of developing MS. The same association was not seen in men.

They found that the women with MS who were infected with H.pylori, were less disabled than those who tested negative. The opposite was true for the men studied, where those with H.pylori infection were more disabled.

The authors suggest that their results show that H.pylori infection might have a specific protective effect against MS. Alternatively it could be an infection that can be used as an indicator to further support the 'hygiene hypothesis'. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that early life exposure to infections may help the human immune system develop properly, making the development of allergies and autoimmune conditions, including MS, later in life less likely.

The researchers could not explain why the protective effect of H.pylori was only observed in women. The study was also limited in that it did not take into account genetics, family history, environmental factors, vitamin D levels or any of the other proposed potential causes of MS. Further research will be needed to investigate the results further.

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