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Longevity Briefs: Can Fasting Be Used To Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Posted on 14 January 2021

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the body’s own immune cells attack the myelin sheath – the insulating cover that surrounds nerve fibres and which greatly accelerates electrical signals. MS causes a wide range of neurological symptoms, and while there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure. Our understanding of the root cause of MS is poor, but we do know that inflammation and the loss of oligodendrocytes (the cells that produce myelin) play an important role.

Understanding Multiple Sclerosis | Brain Institute | OHSU
Myelin damage disrupts the electrical signals that carry information between the central nervous system and the rest of the body, leading to a wide range of neurological symptoms.
OHSU Brain Institute

What did the researchers do: Fasting has previously been found to protect against the development of MS in mouse models by supressing inflammation and protecting the central nervous system. In this study, researchers investigated whether a fasting-mimicking diet (a very low-calorie and low-protein diet for 3 days in every 7) or a ketogenic diet lasting 30 days could ameliorate the condition of mice that already had MS. They also conducted a small human trial to assess the effectiveness and safety of these diets in MS patients.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Both the fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) and the ketogenic diet reduced disease severity compared to control mice, but FMD was more effective. In mice for which treatment began soon after symptoms emerged, 21% of mice had no observable signs of MS after treatment had concluded. In mice for which treatment began two weeks after symptoms emerged, FMD still significantly reduced symptoms and also reduced inflammation, myelin loss and nerve damage, and was also able to restore myelin by regenerating oligodendrocytes. Preliminary results from a trial involving 60 MS patients suggests that FMD and ketogenic diets are safe, feasible, and potentially effective interventions for MS patients, but larger trials will need to be conducted.

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