Could Cutting Calories Help Combat MS?

High fat, low carb, alkaline, vegan, pegan, high-fibre, Paleo… barely a day goes by without someone raving about the latest miracle diet. But shifting a few pounds is one thing – a diet that helps you fit into your favourite skinny jeans and eases your multiple sclerosis symptoms is something else altogether. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Well researchers from the University of Southern California in America don’t think so.

Exciting New Research

A new study in mice found critters that fasted for three days out of every seven, over a period of 30 days (called a fasting mimicking diet or FMD), had lower levels of inflammatory cytokines in their blood than those fed a normal diet. And that’s not all – the researchers discovered the mice also had increased levels of corticosterone and regulatory T cells, which both play a role in keeping immune reactions under control, and reduced levels of myelin-munching T-cells. What’s more, when normal eating resumed, there was a marked regeneration of healthy immune cells as well as myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. In fact, myelin regeneration was so good, symptoms were completely reversed in one in five mice.

Eating to Beat MS

The question is would an FMD have the same effect in people with MS? Well, that’s something the researchers are working on finding out, but a subsequent (albeit very small) study suggests as much. All 18 people with MS who followed one single cycle of a modified FMD for seven days, followed by a Mediterranean diet (basically one rich in fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, and moderate amounts of lean fish and poultry) for six months, reported improvements in their quality of life as well as physical and mental health.

Obviously more research is needed – it’s still not clear, for example, what role the Mediterranean diet (which has long been associated with health benefits of its own) played in the improved symptoms. There’s also the fact that participants who followed a ketogenic (high-fat) diet, rather than fasting, also showed improvements in their health. The researchers concluded that both diets could potentially be effective in the management of MS.

Until a larger clinical study has been carried out, we won’t know the exact mechanisms at play. In the meantime, the researchers have stressed that the last thing people with MS should do is start starving themselves in the hope it’ll cure their MS. Cutting out certain foods may actually exacerbate symptoms like fatigue and depression, leaving you lacking in vital vitamins and minerals.

Make a Difference Today

One thing you can do, however, is to ensure that you’re a healthy weight. We know that there’s a link between obesity and MS, which some experts have put down to the inflammatory effects of a hormone called leptin (levels of which increase with BMI). So if you are tipping the scales, it’s worth addressing your diet and exercise. Your doctor will be able to advise you on sustainable ways to achieve a healthy BMI, while making sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs.

There may be no such thing as a miracle diet – yet! – but there’s plenty of evidence that nourishing your body correctly could be the best medicine of all. Now, where did we put those skinny jeans…?

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