MS and Probiotics: Should You Overload on Yogurt?

Last updated: December 2021

In a previous post, I discussed the possible connection between gut health and multiple sclerosis. Some researchers believe that a lack of certain helpful bacteria in the digestive tract can adversely affect the immune system.

It has been suggested that strengthening the gut microbiome (the various bacteria in the gut) could suppress MS. But a researcher at the Mayo Clinic cautioned that studies are needed to test this theory.1

Should you jump the gun and back up the truck on yogurt and other probiotics?

There are many good probiotic choices

If you want to take probiotics in the hope of improving your digestive health, regardless of whether it helps MS, there are a myriad of choices. Not all are good, however.

Luckily, some of the tastiest fruits and vegetables are loaded with natural probiotics. These foods include refreshing watermelon, citrusy grapefruit, sweet bananas, crunchy carrots, versatile green beans, and colorful sweet red peppers. Our best choices are not limited to the produce aisle. Almonds, oats, barley, and bran are also helpful in the digestive process.

Not all probiotics are equal

Probiotics have become a big deal because more and more consumers are trying to eat healthy. According to one market research study, the global market for probiotics approached $55 billion last year and is expected to grow at more than 7% annually from 2021-2028.2

Food manufacturers are adding probiotics to muffins, cereal, cheese, snacks, and drinks. The trouble is that their health claims are sometimes supported only by company-funded studies.

Even health claims by yogurt manufacturers can be suspect. Several years ago, the Federal Trade Commission charged Dannon with making exaggerated health claims for its Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drink. As part of a settlement, Dannon stopped claiming that one daily serving of Activia relieves irregularity and that DanActive helps people avoid catching colds or the flu.3

Don’t waste your money

The American Gastroenterology Association (AGA) published its recommendations on the role of probiotics in treating digestive disorders last year. It recommended taking probiotics mainly to treat Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) bacterial infections and other conditions if the patient is enrolled in a clinical trial.4

The AGA recognized that dozens of recent international probiotic studies are not comparable. The studies are given to people eating dissimilar diets and consuming different types of live bacteria. Since the studies are inconclusive, it probably doesn’t pay to budget for probiotic supplements.4

So how can food giants and nutritional supplement producers legally claim that probiotics improve gut health? It’s because the Food and Drug Administration permits the industry to make broad claims such as “promotes digestive health.” Marketers cross the line only when claiming that a product can prevent a specific condition, such as constipation or Crohn’s.

Eating smart is your best choice

The bottom line is nobody should hurt their bottom line by spending lavishly on gut health in a bottle or by eating Costco-sized vats of yogurt every day. But consuming natural foods containing probiotics is like the Yiddish joke about the leading man who collapses on stage during a performance. The stage manager looks out to the audience.

MANAGER: Is there a doctor in the house?

A young man rushes to the stage and examines the fallen actor.

WOMAN IN BALCONY: Give him chicken soup!

DOCTOR: I’m afraid he’s dead.

WOMAN IN BALCONY: Give him chicken soup!

DOCTOR: Lady, he’s dead. Chicken soup wouldn’t help.

WOMAN IN BALCONY: It couldn’t hurt!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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