Health Guides
Stay Strong With Multiple Sclerosis SECTION 1 - Eat Right
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Cultivate Good Bacteria

Learn how cultivating healthy gut bacteria can help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.

You might think that your upset tummy is a result of having multiple sclerosis.

It's the other way around, says Susan Blum, MD, author of The Immune Recovery Plan (Scribner). She points out 70 percent of our immune system lives in our intestinal lining, and a healthy gut equals a healthy immune system.

In other words, says Dr. Blum, digestive issues likely come first, causing the immune system to malfunction and, possibly, triggering autoimmune diseases like MS.

While you may not be able to reverse multiple sclerosis by fixing your gut issues, you can reduce the digestive problems that are so common with MS by eating both probiotics and prebiotics.

Let’s hit the probiotics first. These are the beneficial live bacteria -- whether cultured or fermented -- found both in food and supplements to help the human intestinal tract.

“You should add fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, [nondairy] yogurt and kefir to your diet,” says Blum. She advocates avoiding dairy products because they also contain the proteins casein and whey, which she believes can worsen inflammation in the body. Instead, try dairy-free alternatives, such as coconut milk yogurt and kefir.

Blum suggests adding to your diet anything with live active cultures that include the lactobacillus species (like reuteri, casei, rhamnosus, acidophilus) and bifidobacterium species (like infantis, lactis, longum, breve, bifidum). That’s a lot of intense label reading, but most yogurt contains 1 to 3 billion live bacteria that's usually a blend of the two species.

If you’re taking a probiotic supplement, look for a refrigerated blend of the two strains. Why refrigerated? Probiotics are living organisms, Blum notes, and refrigerated supplements are most likely to have viable, active cultures. With shelf-stable probiotic supplements there's a risk that they may have been stored on trucks or in warehouses where high temperatures can kill these beneficial organisms.

Now for the prebiotics. These are the nondigestible plant components that are fermented in the gut to make compounds that feed the beneficial bacteria.

“Think of them as the fertilizers that help the good bacteria grown,” explains Blum.

Good prebiotic foods include most vegetables, legumes and low-sugar fruit like berries, apples and pears. To make sure you’re getting enough prebiotics in your diet be sure to include at least 30 grams of fiber per day. Your good bacteria adore fiber.

Can you suffer any side effects from ramping up on pre- and probiotics? Well, says Blum, some people can get intestinal distress from taking high doses too soon. “It’s best to start at between 10 and 15 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) and go up slowly to 25 billion.”