ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Amy Thomas was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 13 years ago.
"It's just another component of my life to manage. It's not defining who I am."
She regularly gets blood drawn to measure the benefits of intermittent fasting.
In a study measuring the benefits of intermittent fasting, she eats non-starchy 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."
Washington University neurologist Anne Cross is hopeful too.
"Intermittent fasting reduces the inflammatory profile in the blood and possibly in the central nervous system."
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," said Dr. Cross.
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," explained Dr. Cross.
"It reduced the severity. The mice had much less pathology. They had less nerve fiber loss."
"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." -Dr. Anne Cross
An early study in humans shows encouraging effects.
"It seemed to change their immune system," said Dr. Cross.
It won't replace drugs for MS but it could be a valuable addition to them.
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.
Amy 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."
Dr. 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.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at email@example.com.