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MS and the Leaky Gut Connection

By Matt Cavallo

If you are like me and participate in MS support groups online, then you have probably seen posts about MS and Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is not something that I have discussed with my care team. My interest in the subject stems from the amount of posts I have read, so I decided to dig deeper and get some answers on this peculiarly named condition.

This first thing I wanted to understand was the definition of leaky gut syndrome and how it is diagnosed. Common leaky gut symptoms reported included common gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, cramps, bloating, pain, and food sensitivities. Here is where my research started going sideways. There is no specified diagnosis of leaky gut. The closest diagnosis is unspecified functional intestinal disorder. Many times, this diagnosis means that a diagnosis still needs to be made, which can be very difficult to do.

“We don’t know a lot but we know that it exists,” says Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center. “In the absence of evidence, we don’t know what it means or what therapies can directly address it.”

Many think that the root cause of leaky gut has to do with intestinal permeability, which means that materials are passing through the cells lining the gut wall into the rest of the body. This means that toxins that were supposed to pass as waste are now passing back into our body. This could ultimately lead to health problems and autoimmune responses including inflammation, chronic fatigue, migraines, and more.

What can cause intestinal permeability? There could be a genetic link where people are predisposed to intestinal permeability. Other causes can include stress, poor diet, smoking, and excessive alcohol use. There is also popular thought that it can be a bacterial imbalance and that by introducing probiotics into your system, you can help control it. There is little evidence to support this claim, however.

Most interesting to me, however, is how MS affects leaky gut syndrome or vice versa. This correlation was also interesting enough for a group of Swedish researchers to see if there was a connection between leaky gut and MS.

According to Dr. David Perlmutter, “Swedish researchers using an experimental rodent model for multiple sclerosis have now confirmed that immune activation as a consequence of increased intestinal permeability may play a fundamental role in multiple sclerosis. Indeed, when multiple sclerosis was induced in these rodents, there was almost immediate correlation with increased gut permeability, which, in retrospect, was certainly something that was anticipated and now proven.”

It should be noted that this research is still in its early stages, so as a person living with MS, I am going to talk to my doctor about the link between MS and gut health. If you feel that you may be living with leaky gut syndrome, you can consult a gastroenterologist. If you do see a gastroenterologist, it is important to ensure that your neurologist gets the results to ensure care coordination. Glutamine and probiotics are two commonly used supplements to help promote gut health. However, it is important to talk to your doctor and follow their recommendations about maintaining a healthy gut.