Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forum. This week’s question is inspired by “Newly Diagnosed MS Patients Show Changes in Gut Microbiome, Study Says,” from Dec. 3, 2019. Have an experience you want to share? Leave a comment here or at the original forum topic.
You’ve heard the word over and over again. But just what is the microbiome, and how does it relate to MS?
What is the microbiome?
The term microbiome was first introduced to research in 2001 by Joshua Lederberg. We’ve learned a great deal about “gut bugs” since then.
The University of Washington’s Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health (CEEH) offers a great worksheet describing this important aspect of the human body:
“The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside the human body. The number of genes in all the microbes in one person’s microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome. The microbiome may weigh as much as five pounds.”
Where do these microbes reside? Primarily in the gut. We’re made up of about 30 trillion microbes on average, according to one study. They help us with key functions like digestion, nutrient production, blood coagulation, and immune system activity.
Microbial imbalances in the human gut are now understood to be commonly associated with certain kinds of medical conditions. MS garners a lot of interest these days among researchers for this reason.
MS researchers on the microbiome
Why is the microbiome a favored topic among MS researchers?
For starters, people with MS “appear to have a different microbiome to healthy people, particularly during a relapse,” according to the U.K.’s Multiple Sclerosis Trust.
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