For millions of Americans living with multiple sclerosis, it’s challenging to find effective treatment options, especially those that don’t require a ton of medical intervention. However, a new study has found that adding just a few foods to your diet can make a major difference in slowing the progress of symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disorder where the immune system attacks the nervous system, which can affect people’s motor function. While there’s no cure for MS, there are numerous treatment options, both in the forms of medical procedures as well as lifestyle changes, that can improve quality of life.
Researchers at the University of Iowa wanted to take a closer look at how diet could affect not just the symptoms of people already diagnosed with MS, but also people wanting to prevent the disease. More specifically, they wanted to see the effects of isoflavones — plant-derived compounds often found in beans and legumes like soybeans, peanuts, and chickpeas that protect cells against damage and destruction. Isoflavones also have a similar structure to estrogen and can be used for hormone regulation. Putting this knowledge together, scientists conducted an animal study investigating how subjects’ MS symptoms changed before and after receiving an isoflavone-rich diet.
What they discovered is that patients diagnosed with MS are often lacking in isoflavones, and mice that received a plant-based diet rich in these compounds were able to slow and prevent further MS-like symptoms. The big catch, however, is that the body needs to contain special gut bacteria to break down these isoflavones properly. “This study suggests that an isoflavone diet may be protective so long as the isoflavone metabolizing gut bacteria are present in the intestines,” say Ashutosh Mangalam, PhD, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Iowa. Another great reason to take and eat your probiotics!
While scientists say they need to do more research into how to ensure MS patients have both the isoflavones they need as well as the gut bacteria to break it down and absorb it, they’re optimistic that their work could eventually lead to another helpful treatment option for millions of Americans suffering from multiple sclerosis. For anyone who doesn’t have MS, it’s also a great reminder of yet another benefit that comes along with eating plant-based foods!