This year, I wrote several articles about gut health because, in addition to MS, that’s what I’m currently battling. Writing is cathartic, so when an issue hits close to home, pouring words onto paper … er, a laptop, is a godsend. It’s like having a built-in therapist. After successive clicks, a sentence is finished and an emotional issue may sting a little less. Reading study after study increases my knowledge on a topic, with each conclusion adding another nugget of useful information.
I was recently diagnosed with SIBO. What’s that, you may ask? SIBO is an acronym for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. If you have never heard of it don’t worry. Neither did several doctors I’ve seen since my diagnosis. That’s a tricky game when doctors are in the dark about a patient’s illness.
Basically, SIBO is when bacteria normally found in the large intestine proliferate and spill over into the small intestine, a place where they don’t belong. It may be caused by a dysfunction of intestinal nerves or muscles or some sort of abnormality of the intestine.
Symptoms can include abdominal bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, joint pain, abdominal pain, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and weight loss.
After two rounds of expensive antibiotics to kick the bad bacteria out of my small intestine, my stomach once again felt normal. My gastroenterologist sent me happily on my way with one piece of advice: Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
How naive I was to think I was cured. Unfortunately, SIBO is chronic and must be managed carefully. I began eating healthier meals, including whole grains, which resulted in frantic, painful trips to the bathroom. I quickly learned that gluten, sugar, and dairy were the culprits because they bind themselves to bacteria, overloading my system and sending me over the excruciating cliff.
As I began reading up on SIBO, I found growing evidence about a relationship between gut bacteria and multiple sclerosis.
According to research led by Harvard Medical School investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital:
“Bacteria living in the gut may remotely influence the activity of cells in the brain involved in controlling inflammation and neurodegeneration. Using preclinical models for multiple sclerosis and samples from MS patients, the team found evidence that changes in diet and gut flora may influence astrocytes (a star-shaped glial cell in the brain and spinal cord) in the brain, and, consequently, neurodegeneration, pointing to potential therapeutic targets. The team’s results were published in Nature Medicine.”
“‘For the first time, we’ve been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation,’” said corresponding author Francisco Quintana, HMS associate professor of neurology and the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s.
“What we eat influences the ability of bacteria in our gut to produce small molecules, some of which are capable of traveling all the way to the brain. This opens up an area that’s largely been unknown until now: how the gut controls brain inflammation,” he said.
Now I know I’m on the right path to use food as medicine. But it’s going to be a circuitous path because my SIBO continues to act up. I’ve eliminated anything tasty from my diet and my MS reminds me daily that it’s listening.
I’ve asked for a second opinion from a world-renowned facility with learned specialists in digestive disorders, functional medicine (looking at the whole person), and complementary treatments. I’m praying for guidance for my SIBO along with the other three digestive orders I received this year. I want to avoid a full-blown exacerbation because my MS is getting angry with my digestive system. I’d like to stay in remission. We shall see.
NOTE: Take a look at this small study titled, “Prevalence of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth in Multiple Sclerosis: a Case-Control Study from China,” reported by the National Institutes of Health. I hope it’s another step forward to solving a piece of the SIBO-multiple sclerosis puzzle.
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