Intermittent fasting for multiple sclerosis

Published: Jul. 12, 2019 at 4:02 PM EDT
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Nearly 1 million Americans are living with multiple sclerosis. There are nearly 15 Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to slow or modify the course of the disease, and there are dozens more to treat specific symptoms of the disease.

Now, new research is offering hope not with a drug but by changing how patients eat. It's early, but the preliminary results are encouraging.

Amy Thomas was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago.

"It's just another component of my life to manage," she said. "It's not defining who I am."

Today, she's getting blood drawn to measure the benefits of intermittent fasting. In the study, she eats nonstarchy vegetables two days a week. She eats what she wants the other five days.

"I'm hopeful that this is going to show implications that are going to be beneficial and help," Thomas said.

Neurologist Dr. Anne Cross is hopeful too.

"Intermittent fasting reduces the inflammatory profile in the blood and possibly in the central nervous system," Cross said.

The potential benefit of fasting was an accidental discovery. In a study on mice immunized to develop MS, one mouse had abnormal teeth.

"That particular mouse that couldn't eat well didn't get it," Cross said.

When his teeth were fixed, the mouse ate better and soon developed the animal model of the disease. That led to further research.

"It delayed the onset of this animal model. It reduced the severity. The mice had much less pathology. They had less nerve fiber loss," Cross said.

An early study in humans shows encouraging effects.

"It seemed to change their immune system," Cross said.

It won't replace drugs for MS, but it could be a valuable addition to them.

Thomas says she'll keep fasting one day a week after the study.

"Ultimately, I want to be in control of this body, not allow the disease to be," she said.

Cross says intermittent fasting seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect. This could actually change the course of the disease, rather than be a treatment to manage the symptoms.

The next step is to do a larger trial with more patients to determine just how beneficial intermittent fasting can be for people with MS.




REPORT: MB #4601

BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an attack on the bodies central nervous system (CNS). It is an immune-mediated process that causes an abnormal change that is directed to the CNS. This begins when the immune system begins to attack the myelin. Myelin is a fatty material that wraps around the nerve fibers as a way of protection. When the myelin is damaged it affects the brain's capability to send signals throughout the body. The damaged areas begin to develop scar tissue which is the reasoning for the diseases name. The exact cause of the disease has not been determined, but most patients will start to see symptoms anywhere from ages 20 to 40. There are over a dozen treatments to help slow down the disease process. (Source: &

TREATMENT: There is no cure for MS, but there are many medicines and lifestyle changes that can help patients manage the disease. For patients with relapsing-remitting MS doctors will most often start with a disease-modifying drug. Disease modifying drugs help change the course of the immune system so it does not attack the myelin protecting the nerves. These disease-modifying drugs also help prevent flare ups for patients. There are also different treatments doctors may recommend for different symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and bladder problems. Other alternatives include lifestyle changes like more sleep, eating healthy, exercise, stress management, and keeping your body cool. (Source:

INTERMITTENT FASTING: There is a recent study that has shown a possible alternative treatment to MS called intermittent fasting. Anne Haney Cross, MD, Professor of Neurology at Washington University St. Louis explains, "We realized that intermittent fasting had been advocated as sort of another way to approach calorie restriction where you would have one day eating normally, and then the next day off. So that's what we are doing now in humans. But first we did that in mice and we found some really interesting things." She said the effects of the fasting could be beneficial to the patients. "We think that the anti-inflammatory effects of intermittent fasting may be more helpful to tone down the immune system to help reduce relapses and the disease process itself, not so much the symptoms but the actual disease process, which is inflammatory," she said. Cross also says that this could be an adjunct to using some of the disease-modifying drugs. (Source: Anne Haney Cross, MD)