Is There a Link Between Gut Bacteria and Multiple Sclerosis?

Cathy Chester avatar

by Cathy Chester |

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The past year has taken its toll on my digestive system. I’ve experienced alarming amounts of pain, bloating, diarrhea, and more fatigue than I normally experience from MS. All of these issues caused great stress both emotionally and physically, so it was no surprise when my MS flared.

After many appointments with doctors and countless tests that include an endoscopy, colonoscopy, and a two-hour Breathalyzer test, I finally got my results: acid reflux, hiatal hernia, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and diverticulitis. I am now waiting to hear if I also have C. diff.

My life has been on hold as I try to heal. As much as I work to be a good little warrior, my personal and professional lives have suffered. Anyone reading this who experiences pain knows exactly what I mean.

I’m doing what I can to heal my gut by using food as medicine. I don’t want to add to the laundry list of prescription medications I take for MS.

Creating a food plan to heal is easier said than done. There are foods I need to avoid due to acid reflux such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, citrus fruits and juices, coffee, and tea with caffeine. For SIBO I need to avoid products made with gluten, sugar, and dairy. For diverticulitis, I need to ease back into eating by starting with a clear liquid diet (water, broth, gelatin, ice pops) and progress with a low-fiber diet and then onto a high-fiber one with loads of fruits and vegetables.

What I need is a dietician who is well-versed in digestive issues and MS. A search for someone qualified who also accepts Medicare will, I’m sure, be a rarity.

In the meantime, I found research on the relationship between gut bacteria and MS. It turns out there may a link between the bad bacteria in our guts and MS.

Everyone has trillions of gut bacteria that play a role in our health. Ashutosh Mangalam, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, wondered whether people living with an autoimmune disease like MS have different gut microbiome than those found in healthy people. Mangalam and his team conducted a study of the issue.

“Although preliminary, our data suggest that patients with MS have reduced levels of good bacteria responsible for overall benefits obtained from consuming healthy foods, such as soybean and flaxseeds,” Mangalam said, according to ScienceDaily.

Further research is needed with a larger study, but this is certainly a good start.

I was amazed at the number of answers I received after posting a question about gut health in several social media MS communities. Many complained about experiencing gut issues and their long journeys to feeling better. Many cited misdiagnoses, battles with insurance companies to cover testing, and most discussed their holistic approach to feeling better.

Thirty-one years ago I began my search to learn about MS. Now I’m on a new path to heal my gut.

This is what I’m doing so far:

Books: Knowledge is always power, so I purchased three books as part of my starter kit. Each book was recommended by someone I trust and who also experienced gut issues. The book titles are:

  • “Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet,” by Elaine Gottschall;
  • “The Gut Balance Revolution: Boost Your Metabolism, Restore Your Inner Ecology, and Lose the Weight for Good,” by Gerard E. Mullin, MD (I skipped to the chapters applicable to restoring gut health);
  • “The Autoimmune Solution: Prevent and Reverse the Full Spectrum of Inflammatory Symptoms and Diseases,” by Amy Myers, MD.

Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health – particularly your digestive system. They keep your gut healthy by replenishing the good bacteria.

I began taking the probiotic Culturelle but found it wasn’t working, so I switched to Renew Life Ultimate Flora Adult 50+, 30 billion live cultures. I began by taking one capsule once a day, and after a few weeks built up to three capsules a day. I then graduated to one capsule of 100 billion once a day. (Please consult with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter products. Also, remember that our bodies are all different and what works for me may not work for you.)

Acid reflux: Some fermented foods are good for your stomach, but others can create problems. Sauerkraut and pickles have to become part of my diet, even if it’s as small as a scoopful a day. Pistachios and cashews are bad, but hazelnuts and almonds are a little better. Forget anything acidic such as citrus fruit. To learn more about the acid reflux diet, look online for the FODMAP diet.

I also purchased an “acid reflux wedge pillow” to tuck between my mattress and fitted sheet. This allows gravity to prevent the acids in my stomach from flowing into my esophagus overnight.

Are you confused? Join the club. I’ve laid out what I’ve learned so far, but you can see I have a long way to go.
If you’ve experienced any of these issues I’d love to hear from you. Combining gut issues along with multiple sclerosis is not a fun path. Acquiring knowledge from each other is an important tool we could all use.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Kelly avatar


A friend of mine has MS and she went strictly organic plant based diet and she hasn't had a flare in years. I believe there's a lot of connection between food and autoimmune health.

John Connor avatar

John Connor

Like taking Vitamin D I've been giving probiotics a whirl for the last year or so. The evidence is sketchy but it's not going to harm & may do some good. Presume you've heard of Kefir, it's a north African style fermented milk drink. It's far more efficacious than the commercially marketed probiotic drinks - at least those available in the UK.

Shirley Upton avatar

Shirley Upton

I am fascinated by this topic myself, having read several books on the subject lately. I would strongly recommend Dr Michael Mosley's book, The Clever Guts Diet. Dr Mosley is a very highly respected doctor and medical journalist in the UK and his various diets are recommended by many in the medical profession here (including my husband's doctor).
The book has a full programme for improving the gut microbiome. He includes fermented food to add bacteria to the intestines, as well as talking about pre- and pro-biotics. It really is fascinating and well worth reading and includes references to much very recent research into the subject.
I hope you find it useful.

Gwen Hamer avatar

Gwen Hamer

The Anne Rowling Clinic in Edinburgh is currently undertaking a study into whether there is a link between gut bacteria and MS. They are taking blood, stool etc samples from volunteer people with MS and the people they live with.

Benni Chisholm avatar

Benni Chisholm

Feeding the mitochondria of basic cells is a good way to start. Dr. Terry Wahls is the best guru for this. Her book, "The Wahls Protocol" is extremely helpful.

VK avatar


Do some research around vegan diets. It could ease a lot of your problems!

John Liston avatar

John Liston

I am reading a recently published book titled "The Plant Paradox" by Dr Steven R. Gundry in which he identifies leaky gut as common to autoimmunity and uncontrolled weight gain and prescribes a diet called the plant paradox programme. I have listed 2 links below but you can easily find links in any browser search. gut-lining/

Alasdair Guild avatar

Alasdair Guild

I have found Kefir extremely helpful in calming the stomach. It is now being sold in major supermarkets in the UK but the best value bottles ive found are sold in Polish delicatessens which also sell buttermilk.

Alasdair Guild avatar

Alasdair Guild

Have a look at a website called Love Your Gut. It has a whole load of research information as well as practical ways of improving the balance in your gut such as recipes and sources of help and information.

Arthur Leeper avatar

Arthur Leeper

There is a major research project underway at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the Univ of CA San Francisco Medical Center, and two centers, one in Brazil and one in the UK I believe.

The project is to take fecal samples and analyze 500 subjects at each site, so a total of 2000, who have MS, to see if they can recognize a pattern in their gut bacteria. If such a pattern can be spotted, one of the possible approaches could be fecal transfer, from a healthy family member. First wipe out everything in the subject, then introduce the gut population from someone else. In curing those with Clostridium Difficile (aka C-Diff) this approach seems to work more than 90% of the time, in patients who have not benefitted from any other approach.

There was an interesting article about gut microbiome and MS in Scientific American magazine in 2014. It is a bit old, but interesting.

Marie Grubb avatar

Marie Grubb

I believe that my MS first expressed itself to me with major bowl problems 4 years before my diagnosis. I had almost went to a doctor for it but tried to fix it holistically first. I would have sever stomach cramps, acid reflux, constipation followed by diarrhea, has and horrible tasting burps. I stopped drink alcohol, coffee, tea, spicy foods, and citrus fruits. I also began taking ginger capsules 3 times daily along with a probiotic. I lost a lot of weight but eventually it got better but I never stopped the ginger pills or probiotics. I can now eat normally with no problems. Interesting thing is I did stop the ginger pill about 6 months before I flared up and was diagnosed. I now take them twice a day.

Michelle Hower avatar

Michelle Hower

Since having ms I my gut has been a nightmare! I have had a Nissen fundiplication! I follow low fodmap diet! My gastroenterologist says I have gerd! It seems the more meds I take the worse it gets! I have been taking digestive health beef gelatin 3 times a day ! Also probiotics and reflux medication just to get through the day! So I totally a agree ms has changed my gut! The digestive beef gelatin has really helped me?

Diana avatar


Although my comments are not about the gut bacteria, allow me to share this with you all.
I've been practicing (listening) the "Healing Brainwave pure tone binaural" (by Ivan Donalson), which is to activate your immune system. I suggest you to try this practice and see how your health and daily spirits/mood is noticeably changing. Symptoms are gone!
I enjoy my life with a positive attitude without thinking what is going to happen in the future. Live life today.

Jayne Harrison avatar

Jayne Harrison

I have MS and was also diagnosed with celiac disease. Sounds like you should ask to be tested for celiac.

Kelly eastin avatar

Kelly eastin

I was told by a neurosurgeon I have ms. I have 22 lesions . I had spinal tap done and the markers say I don’t have it as of yet but they want another spinal tap. Meanwhile I’ve suffered with diverticulitis . The attacks are frequent and I’m really feeling tired. Daily intestinal cramping, is this connected with ms patients? I have no health insurance and I’m suffering daily.

Suzanne avatar


This sounds familiar. I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis a year ago. But prior to that diagnosis I have also been suffering from a abdominal pain on right side, bloating and feeling of fullness two years prior to my MS diagnosis. Went to gastro doctor. They did colonoscopy and endoscopy. Found I had Barrett's esophagus. Told to continue taking nexium. My symptoms continued but I was also dealing with undiagnosed MS. So I concentrated on getting that diagnosis by seeing a couple neurologist and the second one diagnosed me. I went to a neurologist 4 years prior and was misdiagnosed but I thought I had a pinched nerve and it would go away. Any way after alot of abdominal pain and bloating I went to a new gastro doc and they ordered a complete workup including a lactulose breath test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. That test was positive. So going threw treatment on my 5th day of antibiotics. Giving me some relief. I feel Im on the same path as you explained with eating the right things. Its all connected I believe. MS the gut and my flare ups. Also they say nexium can make SIBO worse which is what I take for barrets esophagus. Im hoping to heal my barrets esophagus threw low fodmap and gerd diet. So I can keep my gut healed also. Thanks for your information it was helpful.

Linda Niesen avatar

Linda Niesen

I am getting this all figured out now. I have too many symptoms, gerd, lpr, Ibs, ic, gastritis, painful skin with stabbing pain all over, muscle spasms, ....I have requested a neuro appt to see about MS. My question is, I have been following a very high ph diet for low acid. Exactly which diet should I follow? Acid Watchers for my gerd and gastritis and lpr? A diet for bladder and IBS? They are all different. Cutting out alcohol chocolate spices and tomatoes etc have all been done for months now and I’m not better. I’m starting to panic now. What am I going to do? How would I be treated for MS?


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