You can ease your multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms with fasting, finds a study.
“People hear these miraculous stories about patients recovering the ability to walk after they started on this diet or that, and everyone wants to believe it,” said Laura Piccio.
“All we have right now are anecdotes. The fact is that diet may indeed help with MS symptoms, but the studies haven’t been done.”
That’s why Piccio has put one dietary intervention to the test. She has launched a trial to evaluate whether drastically cutting calories twice a week can change the body’s immune environment and the gut microbiome, and potentially change the course of the disease. The study is rooted in her own research that shows that fasting can reduce MS-like symptoms in mice.
Piccio and colleagues are recruiting patients with relapsing-remitting MS for a 12-week study. Half will stay on their usual Western-style diet seven days a week, while the other half will maintain such a diet five days a week but limit themselves to 500 calories of vegetables the remaining two days.
The trial is based on findings from a mouse study by Piccio and Yanjiao Zhou, MD, PhD – an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who studies microbiome-based therapeutics – published earlier this month in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The study showed that intermittent fasting reduces MS-like symptoms. In the study, mice were either allowed to eat freely or fed every other day for four weeks before receiving an immunisation 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 in 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,” Piccio said. “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. But it also could act through the gut microbiome.”
The gut microbiome – the community of microbes in the intestine – doesn’t just help us digest our food and synthesise vitamins and amino acids. It also helps our immune systems develop and mature. 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.
In addition, 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.
These results were encouraging enough for Piccio and colleagues to launch a human study of 40 to 60 people. Each participant will undergo a neurological assessment and provide blood and stool samples at the start, midpoint and end of the study.
Participants already taking injectable medications for MS will continue their prescribed drug regimens, and anyone who relapses during the study will receive appropriate treatment.
“We’re not looking for clinical benefit, although we certainly hope to see an improvement,” Piccio said. “Because MS is so variable and people with relapsing-remitting MS can be stable and nearly symptom-free for long periods, you’d need a huge study to see any benefit. Instead, what we want to find out is whether people on limited fasts undergo changes to their metabolism, immune response and microbiome similar to what we see in the mouse.”
A pilot study with 16 people limiting their calories every other day for two weeks found immune and microbiome changes that echo the ones seen in mice. The current study is designed to more closely analyze those shifts – and perhaps set the stage for an even larger study to find out whether skipping meals can ease symptoms for people with MS.
“I don’t think any physician working with this disease thinks you can cure MS with diet alone,” Piccio said. “But we may be able to use it as an add-on to current treatments to help people feel better.”
The study appears in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Beware of the silent killer
By Dr Sudhir Koganti
One may wonder what all this fuss about high blood pressure is. Hypertension causes many cardiovascular diseases that include stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and dementia, thus putting a huge burden on healthcare globally due to morbidity, mortality and associated costs. Last but not least, the public need to be aware of the correct treatment for high blood pressure.
Every year, the World Hypertension Day is celebrated on the 17th of May to increase awareness about this silent killer among general public. International Society of Hypertension along with World Hypertension League has designated the month of May as “May Measurement Month.”
The aim of this initiative is to screen as many people as possible that are over the age of 18 years for suspected hypertension. This strategy would greatly enhance in identifying silent or undiagnosed hypertensives so that they can be targeted with guideline directed lifestyle, dietary advice and treatment.
Awareness on the lower threshold of blood pressure reading required to label an individual as hypertensive is also required. American Heart Association guidelines released in 2017 clearly stipulate that a blood pressure reading of over 130/80 is now considered as stage 1 hypertension. However, the job of a cardiologist doesn’t stop with diagnosis but actually starts there. Once someone is labelled as hypertensive, it needs to be established if it is true or an entity called white coat hypertension.
Furthermore, investigations may have to be carried out to see if hypertension is secondary to a cause. Once diagnosed, a decision needs to be taken if lifestyle modification can be adopted or treatment needs to be initiated early.
Lifestyle modifications include six key steps and they are:
• Get expert advice from your doctor to help you understand your results;
• Lower salt/sodium to prevent excess fluid in the blood, which strains blood vessels;
• Eat more fruits and veggies – particularly potassium-rich ones – to balance out sodium in the blood;
• Exercise – it makes the heart stronger, putting less strain on blood vessels;
• Quit smoking – constituents of tobacco smoke damages blood vessel linings; and
• Monitor your blood pressure at home
As per studies and data, thousands of people are on wrong treatment for hypertension with a class of drugs called Betablockers (Atenolol, Metoprolol etc) being prescribed as first line or second line agent.
Betablockers have been phased out as first line or second line drugs to treat hypertension a while ago, unless there is concomitant coronary artery disease or heart failure. In fact, the same holds for other concomitant conditions too such as kidney disease, stroke etc.
Essentially, the key message is one prescription does not fit all and it need to be tailored to the individual in a dedicated specialist clinic. People need to actively undergo blood pressure screening of themselves.
They need to nudge their relatives and friends in the month of May and seek expert advice on how to manage and monitor this silent killer over the long run to lead an active and healthy life. (Writer is Consultant Cardiologist, Citizens Hospitals, Nallagandla, Serilingampally)
Dr Sudhir Koganti
Jawless fish may hold key to effective brain cancer treatment
A chemical found in jawless parasitic fish can be used to deliver anti-cancer drugs directly to brain tumours, as well as lead to more effective treatments for trauma and stroke, a study has found.
The research, published in the journal Science Advances, found that molecules from the immune system of the parasitic sea lamprey may also be combined with a wide array of other therapies, offering hope to treat disorders like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or even traumatic injuries.
“We believe it could be applied as a platform technology across multiple conditions,” said Eric Shusta, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
When injected into the bloodstream, many drugs cannot reach targets in the brain as the blood-brain barrier prevents large molecules from leaving the blood vessels in the brain, researchers said.
In conditions such as brain cancer, stroke, trauma and multiple sclerosis, however, the barrier becomes leaky in and around the disease locations, researchers said.
The study found that leaky barrier offers a unique point of entry, allowing molecules to access the brain and deliver drugs precisely on target.
“Molecules like this normally couldn’t ferry cargo into the brain, but anywhere there’s a blood-brain barrier disruption, they can deliver drugs right to the site of pathology,” Shusta said in a statement.
Researchers said that the technology takes advantage of the fact that many diseases disrupt body’s natural defense mechanism – the blood-brain barrier, which lines the blood vessels of the central nervous system, protecting the brain from circulating toxins or pathogens.
They also linked the molecules to a chemotherapy called doxorubicin. The treatment prolonged survival in mouse models of glioblastoma, an incurable cancer.
“This could be a way to hold therapies in place that don’t otherwise accumulate well in the brain so they can be more effective,” said Ben Umlauf from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“There are several disease processes that disrupt the blood-brain barrier and we could conceive of delivering a variety of different therapies with these molecules,” said John Kuo from the University of Texas in the US.
Life expectancy linked to a person’s walking speed
People who walk slowly have a lower life expectancy than those who walk fast, a recent study has claimed. According to the study published in the Journal of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, those with a habitually fast walking pace have a long life expectancy across all levels of weight status – from underweight to morbidly obese.
Underweight individuals with a slow walking pace had the lowest life expectancy (an average of 64.8 years for men, 72.4 years for women). The same pattern of results was found for waist circumference measurements.
Professor Tom Yates, the lead author of the study, said, “Our findings could help clarify the relative importance of physical fitness compared to body weight on the life expectancy of individuals. In other words, the findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than body mass index (BMI) and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives.”
Dr Francesco Zaccardi, co-author of the study, said, “Studies published so far have mainly shown the impact of body weight and physical fitness on mortality in terms of relative risk, for example, a 20 per cent relative increase of risk of death for every 5 kilograms per metres squared increase, compared to a reference value of a BMI of 25 kilograms per metres squared (the threshold BMI between normal weight and overweight).”
Last year, Professor Yates and his team showed that middle-aged people who reported that they are slow walkers were at higher risk of heart-related disease compared to the general population.
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