Can probiotics help treat multiple sclerosis (MS)?
The National MS Society reports on a recent study that looks into the idea that probiotic treatment or parasitic worms, called helminths, may be used to treat MS. It is thought that the fairly harmless parasitic worms could alter immune activity in MS patients.
People in underdeveloped regions of the world experience less autoimmune disease and allergies than those in more developed countries. Interestingly, there are more cases of MS where higher standards of hygiene prevail.
Researchers wonder if early exposure to common infectious agents stimulate the body’s immune regulation and encourage healthy immune responses. Perhaps a lack of exposure to those infectious agents at a young age causes the overreaction of the immune system that triggers MS and other autoimmune disease like Chron’s disease.
In a study supported by the National MS Society, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave subjects a drink containing helminth eggs over a three-month period to determine safety and preliminary impact in treating relapsing/remitting MS.
It sounds like something out of a bad science fiction movie, but the eggs hatch within the body. They mature to the approximate size of an eyelash, then head toward the intestines. Upon reaching the large intestine, the immune system kills them.
With only five participants, the study was admittedly very small. Three of the subjects had mild gastrointestinal symptoms 30 days after the first dose, but the symptoms improved within six days. There was no worsening in neurologic symptoms.
Given the small number of subjects, it is difficult to draw conclusions, but analysis indicated a vigorous immune response. Study authors caution that follow-up studies with more participants are needed, and they do not encourage patients to use these preparations outside of clinical trials. A follow-up study is already underway.
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