Multiple Sclerosis Patients Have Altered Microbiome That May Benefit From Dietary Changes Interview with:

Ashutosh K Mangalam PhD Assistant Professor Department of Pathology University of Iowa Iowa City, IA


Ashutosh K Mangalam PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Pathology
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Every human carries trillions of bacteria in their gut (gut microbiome) and recent advances in research indicate that these tiny passengers play an important role in our overall health maintenance. Having evolved over the time span of millions of years with the gut microbiome, they keep us healthy in multiple ways such as fermentation and absorption of undigested carbohydrates, synthesis of some vitamins, metabolism of bile acids etc.

However, new research suggests that gut microbiome, also regulating our body’s defense system. It is hypothesized that a diverse gut microbiome is good for our health and perturbations in this might predispose us to disease development. Therefore, we asked whether multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have a gut microbiome which is distinct from healthy individuals. We collected fecal samples from MS patients and healthy controls and performed microbiome analysis. I have recently moved to UI but the entire study was completed at Mayo Clinic Rochester. This study involved a big team comprised of neurologist, gastroenterologist, bioinformatician, system biologist and study coordinators. We found that  multiple sclerosis patients indeed have a gut microbiome which is different from what is observed in healthy people. We identified certain bacteria which are increased or decreased in the gut of patients with multiple sclerosis compared to healthy controls. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: As MS is a disease of hyperactivated immune system against self-protein, our data suggests that the gut microbiome with right kind of bacteria can keep our immune system in balance by keeping this hyperactivated immune system in check. Our findings suggest that patients with MS might have reduced levels of gut bacteria responsible for keeping our immune system healthy. Although preliminary, our data suggest that MS patients’s microbiome have reduced levels of bacteria responsible for extracting health benefits from food such as soybean and flaxseed. These foods have been suggested to provide health benefits; however, our body needs the right kind of bacteria in our gut to extract good chemicals from these plant foods. Thus right gut microbiome is needed to achieve health benefits of good food such as soybean, flaxseed and legumes. We believe that one of the ways these foods provide health benefits is, by boosting our immune system. A decrease in these good gut bacteria might predispose an individual to the development of autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: As our study points toward role of certain gut bacteria in multiple sclerosis, we would first like to confirm these studies in a larger MS population. We are starting a study at University of Iowa Hospitals and clinics (UIHC) by recruiting more MS patients and multiple time point sample collections to confirm our findings. We have started studies in the lab to understand the process by which these good gut bacteria might provide health benefits. Especially we are testing our hypothesis that the gut bacteria are needed to extract right chemical from healthy food which then boost our immune system. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Although preliminary, our data suggest that patients with MS have reduced levels of good bacteria responsible for overall benefits obtained from consuming healthy food such as soybean and flaxseeds. However further research is needed to confirm these finding in large patients population. Multiple sclerosis patients might benefit from consuming phytoestrogen containing foods such as soybean and flaxseeds, provided they have right bacteria to metabolize them. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Jun Chen, Nicholas Chia, Krishna R. Kalari, Janet Z. Yao, Martina Novotna, M. Mateo Paz Soldan, David H. Luckey, Eric V. Marietta, Patricio R. Jeraldo, Xianfeng Chen, Brian G. Weinshenker, Moses Rodriguez, Orhun H. Kantarci, Heidi Nelson, Joseph A. Murray, Ashutosh K. Mangalam. Multiple sclerosis patients have a distinct gut microbiota compared to healthy controls. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 28484 DOI: 10.1038/srep28484

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on July 2, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD