Plant-based diet and healthy microbiome may protect against multiple sclerosis

·2-min read

Eating a plant-based diet that reacts with specific gut bacteria which are lacking in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), may provide protection against the disease, according to new research in mice.

The study led by Ashutosh Mangalam, PhD, UI associate professor of pathology, shows that a diet rich in isoflavone, a plant-based compound found in soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas and other legumes, protects against multiple sclerosis-like symptoms in mice.

Importantly, the isoflavone diet was only effective when the mice had gut microbes capable of breaking down the isoflavones - but helped them develop them.

"Interestingly, previous human studies have demonstrated that patients with multiple sclerosis lack these bacteria compared to individuals without MS," Mangalam said. "Our new study provides evidence that the combination of dietary isoflavones and these isoflavone metabolizing gut bacteria may serve as a potential treatment for MS."

A diet lacking isoflavones promotes a microbiome in mice similar to one observed in patients with MS, an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord where the immune system attacks the protective coating surrounding nerve fibres.

The symptoms include muscle weakness, balance issues, and problems with vision and thinking.

The exact cause of MS is unknown and while some treatments slow down the disease, there is currently no cure. However, a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors are thought to initiate the disease.

Recently, the gut microbiome - the trillions of gut bacteria the live inside human intestines - has emerged as a potential candidate as a contributing factor, but the mechanism through which these gut bacteria might influence the disease is poorly understood.

Mangalam, whose team found that the isoflavone diet was ineffective when the helpful bacteria were not present, hopes his research could prove helpful to MS prevention.

"This study suggests that an isoflavone diet may be protective so long as the isoflavone metabolizing gut bacteria are present in the intestines," he said.

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