What are You Belching About? The Importance of Gut Microbiome and Multiple Sclerosis

It was three o’clock in the morning and I suddenly woke up out of a sound sleep. I had a pounding headache and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I’d been under a great deal of stress so I told myself that must be the culprit. I quietly got out of bed, as quiet as someone can when they’re in total pain, and walked down our darkened hallway to our great room. I sat next to our sleeping cat on the couch and tried to meditate, focusing on my breath.

Om. Om. Om. Belch.

The chest pain wasn’t subsiding and I thought my head was going to explode. I slowly ambled my way back and forth across our oriental rug, trying to focus on my breath with every pain-filled step.

It was a lost cause.

I was familiar with the signs of heart attacks in women. With my family genes I’d read them over and over again on The American Heart Association website so I’d be prepared. Symptoms in women are different than in men, and what you see dramatized on the big screen is not what actually happens.

I woke my husband up and he dialed 9-1-1.

When the paramedics arrived they took off my thick glasses and slipped an oxygen mask over my face. Where did everyone go?

If you’re my age and know who Mr. Magoo is that’s me.

They took my vitals and told me my heart was healthier than theirs. They joked how their blood pressure was 20 points higher than mine, and that they scarfed down a bag of French fries an hour or so before they arrived.


The ambulance rushed me to the hospital and, fortunately, the pain began to subside. My headache became milder but the disgusting belching lingered on.

The emergency room doctor asked a few preliminary questions, took no blood, and as I continued to belch he pronounced I had acid reflux and a whole lot of stress. He gave me some medicine to calm my stomach, advice on how to tame stress and released me.

That was easily the quickest exam in the East.

I’ve read a lot in the past year on the relationship between the gut and Multiple Sclerosis and how the degradation of myelin could, in part, be blamed on the gut.

When I attended last year’s Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Center’s Annual Meeting one of the keynote speakers spoke about the gut and MS, and I look forward to hearing more about it at this year’s event.

According to an article in Scientific American titled “Could Multiple Sclerosis Begin in the Gut?” it explains that, “Eight percent of the human immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. Alongside it are the trillions of symbiotic bacteria, fungi and other single-celled organisms that make up our guts’ microbiomes.”

When everything is in balance it works like a well-oiled machine but when it doesn’t the disarray could contribute to several diseases including MS.

There’s been so much emphasis on this theory that a consortium, called the MS Microbiome Consortium, has been formed to study it. Ilana Katz Sand, an assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a member of the Consortium, points out that diet and probiotics may be worth pursuing to help maintain a healthy gut. But she cautions that more studies are required to pinpoint a solid relationship between gut health and MS.

For now I’m heading to my gastroenterologist’s office for some tests to find out if I do have acid reflux. Until then I’m taking Nexium 24, enzymes from Vitamin Shoppe, and chewable DGL licorice.

And I’m adjusting my diet to avoid the main culprits of acid reflux, namely, cheese, chocolate, caffeine, tomatoes, citrus, onions, garlic, fatty and fried food, full fat milk products and alcohol.

To read a brief excerpt on what Howard L. Weiner, MD discussed at last year’s Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers click here. To read more please visit the Consortium’s website at www.mscare.org.

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