MS Patients May Suffer a Gut Punch. Literally.

For years I suffered from an irritable bowel that couldn’t make up its mind between constipation and the opposite of constipation. I would occasionally tell my wife, also an MS patient, “At least you don’t have this.”

But over the past few years, Cathy has been suffering periodically from abdominal pain and other digestive issues that several tests have yet to diagnose. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in MSers. We’ve been wondering if there could be a link.

What exactly is an irritable bowel?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It may be in the form of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or other conditions. It is often treated with prescription medication.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic intestinal disorder of unknown origin. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. Although it can be tamed by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress, I was fortunate enough to control it by simply dissolving psyllium husk powder (Metamucil) in water and drinking it 2-3 times a day.

Of course, there are many other digestive tract conditions such as Celiac Disease, Lactose Intolerance and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

What is the connection between MS and the gut?

My wife, Cathy’s experience is hardly extraordinary. The incidence of MS patients suffering from gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and IBD is above the norm.

“Studies have shown that a lack of certain bacteria within the gut can impair the immune system and may predispose a patient to develop an inflammatory disease like multiple sclerosis,” said Nicholas Chia, Ph.D., associate director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Microbiome Program.

Dr. Chia was an investigator on a study comparing the gut bacteria of MS patients with the gut bacteria of healthy persons. He concluded: “Our findings show that there is a connection that needs to be explored further.”1

Is there a connection between probiotics and MS?

Future studies are planned to see if the bacteria in the gut of MS patients in remission is different from that of patients whose MS is relapsing. If so, it raises the critical issue of whether probiotic foods might tame MS.

How fantastic would it be if we could manage MS through probiotics! Curbing MS progression by eating lots of yogurt, watermelon, grapefruit, and other probiotic foods would be so simple and safe.

For now, make sure you are working with a competent gastroenterologist who can provide an accurate diagnosis of your gut issues. There is a pretty good chance that, like me, you have a basic case of IBS. It is the most commonly diagnosed digestive malady, affecting 11% of the world population and 12% of the U.S. population.2

If you are diagnosed with IBS, you might be able to control or eliminate it by changing your eating habits. Your doctor might recommend one or more of the following:

  • For IBS with constipation, consuming fiber such as psyllium, wheat dextran, or acacia.
  • Excluding certain foods from your diet to see if it improves your condition. For me, it was tomato sauce. For others, it could be lactose or gluten.
  • Trying a low FODMAP diet. Avoid poorly absorbed fermentable carbs such as onions, garlic, barley, cabbage, asparagus, beans, and chickpeas.

So, should MSers take probiotics? Check back soon and we will explore that tricky question in my next article.

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