Probiotics increased the punch of treatments that decrease the inflammation associated with multiple sclerosis, a study found.
Using the supplements to add helpful bacteria to the gut may be a way to improve patients’ outcomes, researchers added.
The team from Harvard University-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital did not look at whether probiotics can improve MS itself, however — only at whether it can help reduce the inflammation linked to the disease. additional studies should explore this possibility, the researchers said.
Probiotics contain live bacteria that many scientists believe improve gut health. Recent research has shown that gut microbes can affect how the immune system works. Since MS is an autoimmune disease — or one in which the immune system attacks healthy organs and tissue — this suggests the microbes could improve MS.
The Harvard study, “Investigation of probiotics in multiple sclerosis,” was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
Researchers used a potent probiotic called VSL3 in their work. It contains eight strains of bacteria — four Lactobacillus species, three Bifidobacterium, and one Streptococcus. The compound is sold in the United States under the brand name Visbiome and in Europe as Vivomixx.
The team recruited nine relapsing-remitting MS patients, seven of whom were being treated with glatiramer acetate, and two who were not being treated. Thirteen healthy controls also took part. Glatiramer acetate is sold as Copaxone, Glatopa and as a generic.
MS patients’ average age was 50, compared with 35 for the controls. The patients also were heavier, with some considered obese. None of the patients had a relapse during the study.
After two months of probiotic treatment, healthy controls had fewer microbial species in their gut. There was no such change among patients.
But both patients and controls had more of the beneficial Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, and Bifidobacterium species in their gut, researchers said.
Another finding was that the gut bacteria mix had changed in both patients and controls at two months and five months after treatment, but the change was not significant in patients.
And after patients stopping taking probiotics, their gut bacteria mix went back to what it was at the beginning of the study.
Another finding was that gut bacteria alterations did not lead to changes in the number of inflammation-fighting immune T-cells in participants’ blood. T-cell numbers dropped when patients stopped the treatment, however.
Researchers discovered the same pattern with other types of immune cells, particularly monocytes and dendritic cells, whose role is to instruct T-cells what to attack.
The findings suggested that probiotics may affect disease processes — but researchers said further studies are needed to confirm this.
They called for research to determine if “anti-inflammatory peripheral immune response is associated with improved disease outcome in MS patients.”