Evidence is mounting that a diet mimicking the effects of fasting has health benefits beyond weight loss, with a new study indicating that it may reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Researchers discovered that the diet triggers a death-and-life process for cells that appears critical for the body’s repair.
According to Valter Longo, the study’s lead author and at USC Longevity Institute at the Davis School of Gerontology, during the fasting-mimicking diet, cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells. This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells.
The new study, published in the journal Cell Reports, included mice and human patients who have multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that affects an estimated 350,000 Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
For the first part of the study, researchers put a group of mice with autoimmune disease on a fasting-mimicking diet for three days, every seven days for three cycles, with a control group on a standard diet for comparison. Results showed that the fasting-mimicking diet reduced disease symptoms in all the mice and caused complete recovery for 20% of the animals.
Testing the mice, the researchers found reductions in symptoms attributed to health improvements such as increased levels of the steroid hormone corticosterone, which is released by the adrenal glands to control metabolism. They also saw a reduction in the inflammation-causing cytokines, proteins that order other cells to repair sites of trauma, infection or other pain.
They also saw improvements in the white blood T cells, responsible for immunity.
The researchers found that the fasting-mimicking diet promotes regeneration of the myelin, the sheath of proteins and fats that insulate nerve fibers in the spine and brain, that was damaged by the autoimmunity.
Myelin is critical for the conduction of nerve impulses through the nervous system. In patients with multiple sclerosis, malfunctioning T cells attack the myelin and damage nerve fibers. Interfering with that degeneration while also promoting regeneration is critical for slowing the disease’s development, which is what the periodic, regular fasts appear to trigger.
The researchers also checked the safety and potential efficacy of the diet on people who have multiple sclerosis through a pilot trial with 60 participants with the disease, lead by Markus Bock at Charité University Hospital in Berlin.
Eighteen patients were placed on the fasting-mimicking diet for a seven day cycle and then placed on a Mediterranean diet for six months.
Also for six months, 12 participants were on a controlled diet, and 18 others were on a ketogenic diet ( a high-fat diet ).
Those who received a fasting-mimicking diet cycle followed by the Mediterranean diet and those on a ketogenic diet reported improvements in their quality of life and improvements in health, including physical and mental health.
The researchers noted that the study is limited because it did not test whether the Mediterranean diet alone would cause improvements, nor did it involve a functional MRI or immune function analysis.
Source: University of Southern California ( USC ), 2016