Gut health and MS

 Boost your gut health and you will reap the benefits says nutritionist Jenna Cox  

Gut health is increasingly being linked to diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), and much of it is down to the gut bacteria that live in it – known as the gut microbiome.

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is the diverse collection of microorganisms within the digestive tract, made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes. It is a vital player in our bodies’ metabolic and immune functions.

The gut microbiome has gained substantial attention for its far-reaching influence on our health, and has emerged as a potential factor in influencing disease development and progression.

A possible trigger?

Recent scientific research has suggested a connection between gut microbiota and the onset of MS. Dysbiosis, which is an imbalance within the gut microbial composition and reduction in microbial diversity, could potentially contribute to the inflammation aspect of MS. Researchers have therefore began to investigate the manipulation of gut health for MS management.

In tests on mice, specific types of gut bacteria are believed to trigger the activation of T-cells (immune cells involved in inflammation) that initiate the cascade which leads to MS. Researchers have hypothesised that these T-cells could become activated in the gut due to resemblances between specific proteins found in gut bacteria and those in the myelin sheath.

Saccharomyces boulardii

Studies examining saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic yeast strain, have demonstrated its capacity to restore gut microbiota equilibrium. This particular strain exhibits the ability to increase beneficial bacteria while suppressing harmful species, presenting a promising avenue for reducing inflammation and potentially positively influencing MS symptoms.

An Iranian study on 40 MS patients found that the group taking a saccharomyces boulardii supplement showed a significant decrease in the inflammatory marker high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), along with a significantly greater decrease in pain and fatigue severity, and improved quality of life, compared to the placebo group. While external factors such as dietary triggers and environmental stressors were not fully controlled, the results suggest further research on saccharomyces boulardii is warranted as it may serve as a beneficial addition to disease modifying therapies (DMTs). [Please note people with a weakened immune system could be at risk of a fungal infection if taking this probiotic, so always speak to your healthcare provider before beginning any supplement.]

 Diet and synbiotic supplements

Clinical trials focusing on progressive forms of MS have highlighted the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet supplemented with synbiotics (a mixture of beneficial gut bacteria and plant fibres that help bacteria to grow). These trials showcased significant improvements in fatigue, pain, sexual function, and bladder and bowel symptoms among participants.

The synergistic effect of dietary adjustments and synbiotic supplements displayed promise in alleviating the often-debilitating symptoms of the progressive form of MS, for which there are very few treatments.

Probiotic supplements in RRMS

Further reinforcing the potential of gut-targeted interventions, meta-analyses studies evaluating the effects of probiotic supplements specifically in relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) have yielded promising results. These analyses indicated notable enhancements in disease disability, depression, and overall health following probiotic supplementation. While these findings suggest potential benefits, comprehensive research efforts are necessary to conclusively establish their efficacy.

Diet and lifestyle

We know that a healthy and diverse gut microbiome has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Here are some diet and lifestyle tips for boosting your gut health today

  • The Mediterranean diet

This diet emphasises whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Incorporating olive oil and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel provides essential omega 3 fatty acids that support gut health.

  • Eat 30 different plants each week

Diversify your plant intake. Try to consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, herbs, and spices. Keeping a tally helps keep track of how well you are doing and encourages experimentation with new foods.

  • Include probiotic-rich foods

Integrate foods like yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and other fermented foods into your diet. These items contain live beneficial bacteria that support gut health. Ensure these foods haven’t been pasteurised, as pasteurisation kills the live cultures.

  • Increase prebiotic foods

Consume foods rich in prebiotics to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Include onions, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, bananas, apples, asparagus, oats, and other sources of dietary fibre in your meals.

  • Limit ultra-processed foods

Diets high in ultra-processed foods, with their high levels of sugar, salt and additives are more likely to increase our ‘bad’ gut microbes.

  • Movement

Aim to engage in consistent physical activity each week to positively influence gut microbial diversity and improved gut motility.

  • Stress management

Practise stress-alleviating techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. Chronic stress can negatively impact the gut microbiome, so finding ways to manage stress levels is crucial.

  • Sleep

Achieving eight to nine hours of sleep nightly offers extensive health benefits, including positively impacting the diversity of gut bacteria. Enhancing your sleep routine involves more than just clocking in those hours – it’s about syncing with your body’s natural rhythms. A morning dose of natural light exposure from stepping outdoors and disconnecting from screens a couple of hours before bedtime, supports your circadian rhythms. This practice aids in regulating hormone production, facilitating a smoother transition into a restful slumber.

About Jenna Cox

Jenna Cox is a registered nutritional therapist, supporting people with MS to navigate their journey to optimal health. Jenna has a personal understanding of the challenges MS can bring having been diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2016. Download her free probiotic food and drink guide from, and follow her on instagram @jennacoxnutrition