Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the protein coating that protects nerve fibers from damage. It is unknown what triggers the immune system’s attack, but many MS treatments are targeted at reducing inflammation to curb the activity of the immune system.
What is the microbiome?
Within the digestive tract live millions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses which constitute the microbiome. The populations of microorganisms can change based on what (and when) we eat. Some of these organisms are helpful in digesting food while others may produce chemicals that contribute to disease.
Changing the microbiome may help treat many diseases, including MS, researchers say. One method to alter the microbiome is fasting.
What is fasting?
Fasting, or caloric restriction, means abstaining from consuming food and liquids for a period of time. Intermittent fasting involves not eating during specific hours of the day, or decreasing caloric intake on specific days of the week.
Before starting a fast, patients should talk to a registered dietitian to ensure that they know how to fast safely. They should also discuss fasting with their pharmacist and physician, as some MS medications may need to be taken with specific meals to prevent gastric distress or other problems.
What does the research say?
Few studies have been done on the effect of the microbiome on MS.
One example is a clinical trial (NCT03539094) being conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis to examine the effects of diet on relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). The 12-week study is currently recruiting participants and aims to enroll a total of 60 patients.
Half of the participants will be randomly assigned to eat a Western-style diet seven days a week while the other half will eat a Western-style diet for five days a week, with two days set aside for fasting where they will consume 500 calories a day. Patients will undergo a neurological assessment, and provide blood and stool samples at the beginning of the study, at week six, and at the end of the study.
The researchers stated that diet alone will unlikely be sufficient to treat MS but that their study may discover whether changes in diet and the microbiome are effective in improving disease symptoms in conjunction with other treatments.
Last updated: Nov. 15, 2019
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