A diet that mimics the effects of fasting may have a role in managing multiple sclerosis according to new research.
Researchers in California tested a diet that involves eating half the usual number of calories for three days in every seven. When mice with a disease similar to MS were fed the diet for three weeks, they showed improvements in their symptoms compared to a control group who maintained their usual diet.
Analysis showed that the mice on the diet had lower levels of cytokines (substances released by immune cells) which are associated with inflammation and more cells (T cells) associated with improved immune function. The diet also protected the cells that create myelin and encouraged the regrowth of the protective layer around nerves.
Researchers then conducted a six month study involving 60 people with relapsing remitting MS, primarily to test the safety of the diet. Participants were split into three groups following different diets:
- the fasting-mimicking diet in week one, followed by a Mediterranean diet for the rest of the study
- a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (ketogenic) diet
- a control group on their normal diet
In the 48 people who completed the trial, those on the fasting-mimicking and ketogenic diets showed a 'mild improvement' in disability measured with the EDSS scale and also reported higher scores on measures of quality of life.
The researchers stress that this was early research. It isn't clear how much of the effect was down to the fasting-mimicking diet alone or whether the Mediterranean diet had some influence. Larger trials will be needed to better understand the effects and potential benefits of the diet.
Professor Valter Longo, who led the research, was optimistic about the results but cautioned, "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."