Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Autoimmunity

A majority of the scientific literature supports the notion that longevity is associated with low-calorie diets. Yet, the physiological mechanisms behind why low-calorie diets are so therapeutic are only just being understood. 

You may have heard about “Fasting,” “Intermittent Fasting,” or “Fasting Mimicking Diets.” Technically, fasting can mean any period of time without food. 

I highly encourage giving your body a rest period from actively trying to digest food. The reason is it can take hours to days to effectively metabolize and excrete consumed food completely from the body. Since digestion takes a ton of energy, fasting gives the body a chance to digest food without constantly shocking it with more food to digest.  Fasting directly helps better support the body’s other organ systems, and gives a chance to heal. After all, it is a natural human phenomenon to go many hours to days without food as a part of our evolution.

Fasting is extremely helpful to boost the immune system, especially for autoimmune disorders and cancer.  For example, a study on mice with induced autoimmune encephalomyelitis—the animal model equivalent of multiple sclerosis—showed that fasting decreased disease severity, delayed disease onset, and lowered incidence among the experimental population (100% control group vs. 45.6% fasting group) (Choi et al., 2016). 

In this study, the mice were placed on a very low-calorie diet for 3 days every 7 days for one month (ie., like a weekend recovery meal plan).  Fasting was found to decrease the disease severity score to 0 in 27% of the mice and 0.5 in 50% of the mice (anything below 1 is a marked improvement). These mice experienced a 75% reduction in a cell surface integrin of white blood cells (i.e. macrophages, granulocytes, and NK cells) called CD11b+ (p<0.05), which is an inflammatory marker related to the spinal cord. There was a 4-fold reduction in CD4+ T cells, which typically contribute to demyelination in multiple sclerosis (p < 0.01). 

Choi et al. (2016) also looked at the quality of life of patients living with multiple sclerosis. In total, 60 individuals were randomly assigned to either eating a control diet for 6 months, a ketogenic diet for 6 months, or a 7-day fasting mimicking diet followed by a low-calorie Mediterranean diet for 6 months. Both the fasting mimicking and ketogenic diet groups had significant improvements in quality of life measurements after 3 months of treatment. 

These researchers conclude that fasting is effective in the prevention and management of autoimmune conditions because it helps to reduce T cells and monocytes levels. They note that myelin regeneration occurs when the fasting is temporary and followed by periods of re-feeding, on anti-inflammatory predominantly whole plant foods. Fasting with re-feeding on a low-calorie diet would not have the same beneficial effects on the immune system.

Fasting shows great promise in decreasing the incidence and severity of autoimmune conditions. What we need to keep in mind when considering any fasting regimens is that the main risk relates to the severe energy restriction and nutritional inadequacy if it is not appropriately (Lee and Longo, 2011). As with anything, finding the optimum balance is key.

This is why Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns like autoimmunity.  We help them reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plan. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.



Choi, I.Y., Piccio, L., Childress, P., Bollman, B., Ghosh, A., Brandhorst, S., … & Longo, V.D. (2016). Diet mimicking fasting promotes regeneration and reduces autoimmunity and multiple sclerosis symptoms. Cell Rep., 15(10): 2136-2146.

Lee, C., & Longo, V. (2011). Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: From model organisms to patients. Oncogene, 30, 5/30/2017.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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