A new study has suggested that a very restrictive diet could reduce the symptoms people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience.
Researchers from University of Southern California (USC) found that a diet mimicking the effects of fasting triggers a death-and-life process for cells that could be critical for the body's ability to repair itself.
"During the fasting-mimicking diet, cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells," said Valter Longo, the study's lead author and professor who directs the USC Longevity Institute at the Davis School of Gerontology. "This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells."
Published in the journal Cell Reports, the study looked at both animal models and human participants who had MS.
Initially, the team placed a group of mice with autoimmune disease on a fasting-mimicking diet for three days and found that it was able to reduce disease symptoms. In addition, it caused "complete recovery for 20 per cent of the animals," according to the report.
By looking at this closer, the researchers found the symptoms that had been restricted were those linked to an improvement in health, such as increased levels of steroid hormones. They also saw changes in inflammation-causing cytokines, which repair sites of trauma, infection or other pain, and white blood 'T cells', which are responsible for immunity.
In addition, they found that the fasting-mimicking diet encouraged myelin to regenerate, causing nerve fibres in the spine and brain to be better protected against damage.
In people who have MS, malfunctioning T cells attack the myelin and damage nerve fibres. It is thought that stopping this degeneration and promoting regeneration is critical for slowing the disease's development.
"On the one hand, this fasting-mimicking diet kills bad immune cells," Professor 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."
In a pilot trial, the researchers checked the safety and potential efficacy of the diet on 60 people with MS. It found that those who received a fasting mimicking diet cycle experienced improvements in their quality of life, as well as both physical and mental health.
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