Chinese Medicine May Ease MG by Acting On Gut Microbiota
Fufang Huangqi decoction — a traditional Chinese medicine formula reported to reduce symptoms of myasthenia gravis (MG) — helps to restore the balance of gut microbial community, or microbiota, in people with mild MG, according to a small study.
These early findings suggest that the formula’s clinical benefits may be associated with its effects on the gut microbiota, adding to the increasing number of studies supporting a link between MG and an imbalanced gut microbiota. More studies are needed to confirm these results.
The study, “Effect of Fufang Huangqi Decoction on the Gut Microbiota in Patients With Class I or II Myasthenia Gravis,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.
Gut microbiota comprises a vast community of friendly bacteria, fungi, and viruses that colonize the gastrointestinal tract. This community helps to maintain a balanced gut function, protect against disease-causing organisms, and influence a person’s immune system.
A well-balanced gut microbiota depends on several factors, such as diet, age, antibiotic therapy, and certain diseases. A gut microbiota imbalance has been shown to trigger or worsen a number of health conditions, ranging from gastrointestinal diseases to cardiovascular, inflammatory, and autoimmune disorders like MG.
Previous research has suggested the gut microbiome is dysregulated in people with MG, with some studies reporting reduced bacterial diversity, and others showing altered proportions of beneficial and disease-causing groups of bacteria.
“Therefore, it is possible that adjusting the balance of the gut microbiota could [be] an important approach for treating MG,” the researchers wrote.
A previous study showed that Fufang Huangqi decoction, a concentrated liquid formula from several roots and herbs that is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, reduced MG symptoms within four weeks of treatment.
“However, the mechanism by which Fufang Huangqi decoction improved MG is still unclear,” the researchers wrote.
With this is in mind, a team of researchers in China conducted a study (ChiCTR2100048367) to assess whether the benefits of this formula were associated with changes in the gut microbiota of people with MG.
They compared the gut microbiota of eight patients (seven men and one woman) who saw their symptoms lessen after treatment with Fufang Huangqi decoction and eight patients (four men and four women) who did not receive the medicinal formula.
All patients had MG class I or II, characterized by muscle weakness affecting the eyes only or mildly affecting all parts of the body. There were no significant differences in terms of age, sex, and course of disease between the two groups.
None of the patients were receiving MG-related, immunosuppressive, or hormonal treatments that could affect the study.
Fecal samples were collected and analyzed to assess gut microbiota composition and diversity, as well as potential markers that could distinguish treated patients from those not given the formula.
Results showed that patients with reduced symptoms after treatment with Fufang Huangqi decoction showed significant differences in the proportion of the main bacterial groups relative to untreated patients.
These included a significantly higher proportion of bacteria from the Actinobacteria group and a lower proportion of those from the Bacteroidetes group, reflecting a higher Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio.
Notably, MG patients have been reported to show a higher proportion of Bacteroidetes and a lower-than-normal Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio, which is associated with a more pro-inflammatory profile.
Treated patients also showed a significantly higher proportion of beneficial bacteria — Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Roseburia — and a significantly lower proportion of Blautia and Bacteroides, which have been associated with pro-inflammatory responses.
Moreover, further analysis demonstrated that differences in Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Blautia, and Bacteroides “contributed greatly to the differences in the microbial community compositions between the 2 groups,” the researchers wrote.
These bacterial groups were shown to discriminate between patients in the treated versus non-treated groups.
These findings suggest that “taking Fufang Huangqi Decoction reduced the proinflammatory microbes and played a regulatory role in the immune imbalance,” the team wrote.
More studies are needed to confirm the beneficial effects of Fufang Huangqi decoction and their association with gut microbiota regulation in MG patients. Further research also should focus on the potential benefits of using probiotics as a complementary therapy for MG.
Probiotics — found in yogurt, fermented foods, and dietary supplements — are live microorganisms thought to improve gut health.