CHICAGO, July 2 (Xinhua) -- Intermittent fasting reduces multiple sclerosis (MS)-like symptoms, a study on mice by U.S. researchers shows.
In the study, mice were either allowed to eat freely or fed every other day for four weeks before receiving an immunization to trigger MS-like symptoms. Both groups of mice then continued on their same diets for another seven weeks.
The mice that fasted every other day were less likely to develop signs of neurological damage such as difficulty walking, limb weakness and paralysis. Some of the fasting mice did develop MS-like symptoms, but they appeared later and were less severe than in the mice that ate their fill every day.
In addition, the fasting mice's immune systems seemed to be dialed down. As compared with mice that took daily meals, those that ate every other day had fewer pro-inflammatory immune cells and more of a kind of immune cell that keeps the immune response in check.
"There are several possible ways fasting can affect inflammation and the immune response," said Laura Piccio, an associate professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "One is by changing hormone levels. We found that levels of the anti-inflammatory hormone corticosterone were nearly twice as high in the fasting mice."
Fasting also could act through the gut microbiome. A change in the makeup of the gut community could alter whether the immune system has a pro- or anti-inflammatory bent, the researchers said.
After four weeks, the mice that fasted sheltered a more diverse ecosystem in their guts than mice that ate every day. In particular, the fasting mice had more of the soothing probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus, which other studies in mice have linked to milder MS-like symptoms.
Moreover, transferring gut bacteria from fasting mice to non-fasting mice made the recipients less susceptible to developing MS-like symptoms, suggesting that something in the microbial community was protecting the mice.
Based on this mice study that was published earlier June in the journal Cell Metabolism, the researchers at the university are now recruiting human patients with relapsing-remitting MS for a 12-week study.