Diet plays a big role in determining health, and researchers have found that going on one that mimics the effects of fasting offers benefits for those with multiple sclerosis.

In a study published in the journal Cell Reports, the researchers showed that a fasting-mimicking diet was able to reduce symptoms of the disease as it triggers a death-and-life process involving cells that appears to be integral to how the body repairs itself.

According to Valter Longo, the lead author of the study, the fasting-mimicking diet promotes the production of cortisone, which prompts the killing of autoimmune cells.

"This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells," he said.

Longo and colleagues' findings follow earlier research that showed pairing the same diet with cancer drug treatments weakened cancerous cells while protecting normal ones. For their study, the researchers worked with both mice and human subjects with multiple sclerosis.

For the first phase of the study, one group of mice was put on a three-day fasting-mimicking diet every seven days for three cycles, while another was given the standard diet to be the control group. Both groups of mice had the autoimmune disease.

According to the researchers, the diet group not only exhibited reduced symptoms, but 20 percent of them even showed complete recovery. When the mice were tested further, they were shown to have higher levels of corticosterone, a steroid hormone released by adrenal glands in controlling metabolism, and white blood T cells.

Additionally, the researchers recorded lower levels of cytokines, which are inflammation-causing proteins that signal cells to repair trauma or infection sites, and improved myelin regeneration. Myelin is protein sheaths that protect nerve fibers in the brain and spine.

To check on the effectiveness and safety of the fasting-mimicking diet, the researchers carried out the second phase of their study to involve 60 human participants. Improvements were also recorded like in the mice trial, but the researchers are not sure if the ketogenic and Mediterranean diets they put the participants on after the fasting-mimicking diet could have influenced the results.

However, the researchers received positive feedback from participants and this has made them optimistic about exploring the diet further as a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

Photo: Tomas Sobek | Flickr

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