Rutgers University researchers have made a breakthrough, establishing a concrete link between the microscopic organisms residing in the digestive tract, also known as the gut microbiome, and multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative disease of the nervous system.
The Gut Microbiome and MS
This finding adds further weight to the belief that making dietary adjustments, such as increasing fiber intake, might slow the progression of MS.
The researchers are now testing the impact of dietary interventions on MS patients.
MS is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the protective coverings of nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and eyes. As per the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS affects almost 1 million adults in the United States.
Previous Findings and the Current Study
Previous studies distinguished the microbiomes of MS patients and healthy subjects. However, they all reported different abnormalities, making it difficult to ascertain what changes, if any, were driving disease progression.
In this study, the researchers used mice engineered with MS-associated genes to trace the link between alterations in gut bacteria and an MS-like condition, known as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).
As these mice matured and developed EAE and a gut inflammatory condition called colitis, the researchers noted increased recruitment of inflammatory cells (neutrophils) to the colon and production of an anti-microbial protein called lipocalin 2 (Lcn-2).
Findings in MS Patients
Next, the study team looked for evidence of this process in people with MS and found significantly elevated Lcn-2 levels in the patient stool.
This marker correlated with reduced bacterial diversity and increased levels of other markers of intestinal inflammation.
Furthermore, bacteria that seem to ease inflammatory bowel disease were reduced in MS patients with higher levels of fecal Lcn-2.
Significance and Dietary Interventions
The study suggests that fecal Lcn-2 levels may be a sensitive marker for detecting unhealthy changes in the gut microbiome of MS patients.
It also strengthens the argument that high-fiber diets, known to reduce gut inflammation, may help combat MS.
If you’re interested in nutrition, consider reading studies about the potential brain health protection offered by the Mediterranean diet and the optimal time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.
For more general health information, recent studies suggest that olive oil may help prolong your life, and vitamin D could lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.
The research, led by Kouichi Ito and colleagues, adds a valuable perspective on the potential causes and treatment of MS. The study was published in Frontiers in Immunology.
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