Valter Longo's research group has for the past few years been gathering data in clinical trials on the effects of a short-term low-calorie diet that achieves enough of the benefits of fasting to be useful. In essence the researchers have been in search of the 80/20 point in reduced caloric intake at which most of the triggers of outright fasting are hit, and thus the resulting changes in metabolic processes look fairly similar to those produced by fasting for the same period of time. The result, a fasting-mimicking diet, has been deployed as a cancer adjuvant therapy, but the researchers are interested in finding other uses as well. Here, results are presented for a study of its effects on multiple sclerosis in animal models of the disease and human patients.
As much as the science and the new data, the progress achieved by this group has been a matter of attracting new funding to calorie restriction and intermittent fasting research. Formulating the fasting mimicking approach as a medical diet that companies can package, sell, and bill for within the current dysfunctional medical system - even though anyone can easily replicate it on their own - has proven to be a very viable way to gain research funding from sources that have previously had little interest in this field.
Evidence is mounting that a diet mimicking the effects of fasting has health benefits beyond weight loss, with a new study indicating that it may reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Scientists discovered that the diet triggers a death-and-life process for cells that appears critical for the body's repair. "During the fasting-mimicking diet, cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells. This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells." These latest findings follow studies that showed cycles of a similar but shorter fasting-mimicking diet, when paired with drug treatments for cancer, protect normal cells while weakening cancerous ones. The lab found that the diet can cut visceral belly fat and reduce markers of aging and diseases in mice and humans. "We started thinking: If it kills a lot of immune cells and turns on the stem cells, is it possible that maybe it will kill the bad ones and then generate new good ones? That's why we started this study."
For the first part of the study, researchers put a group of mice with autoimmune disease on a fasting-mimicking diet for three days, every seven days for three cycles, with a control group on a standard diet for comparison. Results showed that the fasting-mimicking diet reduced disease symptoms in all the mice and "caused complete recovery for 20 percent of the animals." Testing the mice, the researchers found reductions in symptoms attributed to health improvements such as increased levels of the steroid hormone corticosterone, which is released by the adrenal glands to control metabolism. They also saw a reduction in the inflammation-causing cytokines - proteins that order other cells to repair sites of trauma, infection or other pain. They also saw improvements in the white blood "T cells," responsible for immunity. Finally, the researchers found that the fasting-mimicking diet promotes regeneration of the myelin - the sheath of proteins and fats that insulate nerve fibers in the spine and brain - that was damaged by the autoimmunity.
The researchers also checked the safety and potential efficacy of the diet on people who have multiple sclerosis through a pilot trial with 60 participants with the disease. Eighteen patients were placed on the fasting-mimicking diet for a seven day cycle and then placed on a Mediterranean diet for six months. Also for six months, 12 participants were on a controlled diet, and 18 others were on a ketogenic diet (a high-fat diet). Those who received a fasting-mimicking diet cycle followed by the Mediterranean diet and those on a ketogenic diet reported improvements in their quality of life and improvements in health, including physical and mental health. The researchers noted that the study is limited because it did not test whether the Mediterranean diet alone would cause improvements, nor did it involve a functional MRI or immune function analysis.