Prebiotic Fiber Prevents Autoimmune Neurological Disease


Incorporating non-fermentable (prebiotic) fiber during early life can help prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study.


The rise of the low-fiber, high-fat diet in recent decades (the “Western diet”) has paralleled a rise in autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis.

Growing evidence suggests that the “Western diet” negatively affects gut microbiome composition and function, resulting in the development of autoimmune diseases.

While there are numerous efforts to develop new treatments, a better approach might be to identify preventive strategies.

Dietary fibers include complex carbohydrates that can be either soluble (e.g., pectin) or insoluble (e.g., cellulose) and are crucial for human health.

Growing evidence shows that the end products of fiber fermentation (by gut bacteria), short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), shape the immune system in the gut and help protect against many autoimmune and allergic diseases.

Most insoluble fibers (e.g., cellulose) make up the bulk of plant tissues, including vegetables and fruits, and are poorly digested by the gut microbiome. Although non-fermentable fiber can modulate microbiome composition, their role in autoimmune disease development is still poorly understood.

So, researchers set out to investigate the effects of non-fermentable dietary fiber on the development of central nervous system (CNS) autoimmune disease.

The research team used a genetically engineered spontaneous experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis mouse model (an MS-like mouse model) to investigate the effects of fiber.

Interestingly, they found that consumption of non-fermentable dietary fiber (a diet rich in cellulose) helped protect mice from developing spontaneous CNS-directed autoimmunity. The protection went away when the mice were switched to a low-fiber diet early in life.

The protective effects were related to changes in the gut microbiome and consequent recruitment of anti-inflammatory immune cells to the intestine.

Overall, the research suggests that a plant-rich diet in early life offers a simple way to prevent CNS autoimmunity, but nutritional studies in humans are now needed.  


Berer, K., et al. (2018). Dietary non-fermentable fiber prevents autoimmune neurological disease by changing gut metabolic and immune status. Scientific reports, 8(1), 10431.