Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Studies show that going without food for short periods may potentially reduce symptom severity. Fasting studies in mice show considerable improvement in inflammation levels and disease progression. Studies in humans are rare but promising.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
Recent animal studies show that fasting for short periods can greatly improve symptoms.
Human studies are rare but show that fasting may help with symptoms and disease progression.
Fasting may rebalance the microbiome and reduce the number of damaging immune cells circulating in the blood.
Multiple sclerosis symptoms
With multiple sclerosis, a person’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath which is the protective cover that surrounds the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. Since the nerves are left exposed, it leads to pain and other symptoms that vary widely depending on which nerves are affected, and how damaged they are.
However, multiple sclerosis symptoms often affect movement and can include the following:
- Chronic pain.
- Vision problems.
- Balance and coordination issues.
- Tremors, numbness, burning, or tingling sensations.
- Difficulty thinking clearly.
Symptoms usually come and go over the years. Multiple sclerosis affects 2.5 million people around the world and is more common in women. There is no cure for MS, but medication can delay the progression of the disease and lessen the severity and frequency of relapses. Recent studies show that fasting might be a useful practice for people with MS.
Fasting and multiple sclerosis
Research is underway to learn how fasting might help reduce the severity of MS symptoms.
In mice studies, specific immune cells, called T-cells, were found to cross the blood-brain barrier where they caused inflammation in the central nervous system. It’s possible that fasting may lower the number of immune cells causing inflammation.
Other research suggests that people with MS have differences in their gut microbiome, the natural bacteria living in our intestines. Short-term fasting may rebalance the microbiome, which may have an effect on the body’s immune response.
Few studies have been conducted on people, but animal models have yielded some interesting results. Much of the research has been performed using mice. Studies have shown that short-term fasting (about 19 hours) lowered the number of monocytes, a white blood cell that mistakenly attacks the body in people with MS. This led to reduced inflammation but the cells were still able to respond to real infections when and where they were needed.
In another study, researchers put the mice on a diet where they fasted every other day. The study outcomes showed:
- Regeneration of cells that build and maintain the myelin sheath.
- Reduction of severe symptoms.
- Complete reversal of symptoms in 20% of mice.
In addition to the work on mice, these researchers conducted a clinical trial to test fasting and the ketogenic diet in people with MS. The participants were split into three groups: one followed the ketogenic diet, one fasted for seven days and then followed the Mediterranean diet, and one ate their regular diet.
The researchers found health improvements in the groups who fasted and who ate the ketogenic diet. These improvements included:
- Lower rates of infections.
- Lower rates of disability.
- Lower rates of white blood cells circulating in the blood.
Right now, there is little evidence that any kind of specific diet can improve MS symptoms and disease progression. Animal models do not always transfer well to human models, but they are a good and necessary start. Recent research shows that fasting may reduce inflammation in the body and improve MS symptoms. More research is needed. People with MS should speak with their doctor before making any changes to their diet.