Wondering if a probiotic could help treat your MS? With 10 forum threads on the topic, you’re not the only one. From conflicting information online to recommendations from friends and new research making headlines, separating fact from fiction can be tricky. Here’s a recap of the latest research on probiotics and MS from our in-house team of health professionals.
Let’s start with the basics: What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (usually bacteria or yeast) that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses and encourage a healthy digestive tract and immune system. They’re often referred to as “gut-friendly” bacteria.
- Where can you get them? Probiotics are often in supplements or foods (like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, etc.) that are prepared by bacterial fermentation.
- A couple probiotic bacteria that have been shown to have health benefits include: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within those groups are many different species and strains. Many probiotic supplements (broad-spectrum or multi-probiotics) combine different species together in the same supplement.
- Gut flora (microbiota) consists of hundreds of different types of microorganisms. Probiotics may help improve the way your gut flora performs.
Why is gut health important for MS?
- Your gut does more than digest food — it plays an essential role in the immune system.
- There are both anti-inflammatory microbes and microbes that cause inflammation by adding stress to the immune system. When your gut bacteria is out of balance, it can have a negative impact on your health.
- Some research shows, an MS gut may have more pro-inflammatory bacteria like Methanobrevibacter and Akkermansiaas and less anti-inflammatory bacteria like Butyricimonas.
- Newer research shows there may be a link between gut flora and the progression of MS.
The latest research on probiotics for MS
- While there have been studies in mice models and bacteria, there are only two clinical trials that have studied the effects of probiotics in patients with MS.
- A pilot study tested 22 patient fecal samples before and after administering VSL3 (a probiotic mixture with 8 strains of lactic acid–producing bacteria including: L. plantarum, L. delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus and L. acidophilus) for markers of inflammation which has been associated with the progression of MS.
- Results: There was an increased anti-inflammatory effect in the cells after administration of probiotic.
- A randomized controlled trial treated 60 patients with a probiotic containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus fermentum.
- Results: The study demonstrated that the use of probiotic capsule for 12 weeks among patients with MS had favorable effects on EDSS (Expanded Disability Status Scale), mental health, and inflammatory factors.
- Based on the results, the difference in EDSS levels between treatment and placebo was statistically significant, however, was not clinically significant (meaning, we need more evidence).
The bottom line:
Should you start taking a probiotic? The jury’s still out. Based on the two trials and the other non-patient studies, there seems to be a link between gut flora and the progression of MS. However, at this time there isn’t enough data or clinical benefit to support the use of probiotics for MS.
Considering taking a probiotic to treat your MS? Be sure to talk to your doctor.
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