Fasting-like diet shows promise treating autoimmune diseases in small study.
A diet that mimics the effects of fasting may reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), reported a study published in Cell Reports.
This particular diet triggers a death-and-life process for cells that could be crucial for the body’s repair.
“During the fasting-mimicking diet, cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells,” said lead study author Valter Longo. “This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells.”
For the study, researchers used both mice and human patients with multiple sclerosis.
During the first part, mice with MS were put on a fasting-mimicking diet for 3 days weekly for 3 cycles. The control group was placed on a standard diet for comparison. The results showed that the diet reduced MS symptoms in all of the mice, while achieving complete recovery in 20% of the animals.
After the mice were tested, reductions in symptoms attributed to health improvements were found, including increased levels of corticosterone released by adrenal glands for metabolism control. Additionally, a reduction in cytokines and an improvement in white blood T cells were also seen.
The results of the mice study revealed that the diet promoted regeneration of myelin, which is damaged in MS patients.
By interfering with degeneration while simultaneously promoting regeneration, it appears to slow the development of MS, which is what the fast-mimicking diet appears to trigger.
“On the one hand, this fasting-mimicking diet kills bad immune cells,” Longo said. “Then, after the mice return to the normal diet, the good immune cells, but also the myelin-producing cells are generated, allowing a percentage of mice to reach a disease-free state.”
After the diet was tested on mice, researchers explored the safety and efficacy on people with MS through a pilot trial.
Of 60 participants, 18 were placed on the fasting-mimicking diet for a 7-day cycle followed by a Mediterranean diet for 6 months. There were 12 participants on a controlled diet for 6 months and 18 other individuals who were placed on a ketogenic diet.
The results of the study showed that those on the fasting-mimicking diet cycle followed by the Mediterranean diet and those on the ketogenic diet saw improvements in quality of life and health, including mental and physical health.
Similar fasting-mimicking diets have been tested and found safe in trials, according to researchers. However, patients with autoimmune disorders who have run out of options should consult their physicians about potentially trying the diet or enrolling in a clinical trial that’s testing the diet.
The study did include limitations because it did not test the Mediterranean diet alone to see if it would result in any improvements. Also, the study did not include a functional MRI or immune function analysis.
Investigators stress that further research needs to be done to determine if the diet could help patients with autoimmune diseases, and the diet’s efficacy needs to be tested in larger clinical trials.
However, Longo reported that he has heard positive feedback from patients who have tried this diet.
“We are optimistic,” Longo said. “What we don't want is patients trying to do this at home without involvement of their specialist or without understanding that larger trials are necessary to confirm that the diet, as a treatment, is effective against multiple sclerosis or other autoimmunities.”