New research shows multiple sclerosis might begin in the gut

Researchers have known for a long time that multiple sclerosis is an immune system disease, caused when the body attacks its own cells, stripping the nerves of a protective covering called myelin.

Now, as Scientific American reports, new research suggests that this damage could begin in our guts. Which would make sense: 80% of our immune system is located in our intestines, where bacteria and fungi (theoretically) keep everything in balance. But there’s increasing evidence that when this balance is off it not only causes issues like IBS but can lead to conditions not normally associated with the digestive system, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and autism.

Now a few new studies have come to the conclusion that the gut also plays a major role in developing MS. Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that a single-celled organism called methanobrevibacteriaceae, which activates the immune system, is more prevalent in the digestive systems of people with MS. Meanwhile, researchers in the US and Canada discovered that children with MS had drastically different gut microbes than healthy children. In Japan, meanwhile, scientists altered mice’s gut flora and were thus able to prevent them from developing an MS-like disease. As MS is more prevalent in the west, some researchers posit that it could be connected to diet.

A new organisation, the MS Microbiome Consortium, has been formed to investigate the connection between MS and gut microorganisms. Specifically, researchers now need to know whether it’s possible to develop specific treatments focused on bacteria and fungi, and if so, which strains to target and how this might affect any existing medication. It’s even possible that there’s one organism that behind every case of the disease. Given that the percentage of people with MS keeps rising, let’s hope that if there is, they find it soon.

Image by MarcoTolo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Diane Shipley