Study finds diet that mimics fasting may reverse gut inflammation

Fasting is a major trend in the dieting world right now, particularly intermittent fasting, which involves eating only within a small period of time. A number of health benefits related to fasting have been identified by past research, and now a new study has found that consuming a 'fasting-mimicking' diet may help alleviate the symptoms and reverse the damage of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Inflammatory bowel disease is an illness that covers conditions that include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This condition can greatly reduce the patient's quality of life, but new research out of the University of Southern California has found that a low-calorie diet may help reverse the condition.

According to the study, mice put on a fasting-mimicking diet experienced a reduction in intestinal inflammation, as well as an increase in intestinal stem cells. In a group of mice that consumed the fasting-mimicking diet for four days before resuming a normal diet (repeating this process through two cycles), researchers noted that some IBD symptoms and issues were reversed and others were mitigated.

The diet itself appears to have played a vital role in this process, as mice that were subjected to a water-only fast didn't experience the same degree of benefits. According to the study, this could mean that some nutrients from the mimicking diet had a part in improving inflammation. Undergoing multiple cycles of the fasting-mimicking diet resulted in increased rates of stem cell activation and colon regeneration.

What exactly is a fasting-mimicking diet? These are meal plans that involve low-calorie, low-protein, plant-based foods. Study author Valter Longo explained:

We've determined that the dietary components are contributing to the beneficial effects ... It is really remarkable, that in the past 100 years of research into calorie restriction, no one recognized the importance of the re-feeding. Restriction is like a demolition where you take the building down. But you have to rebuild it. If you don't do that, there's no benefit. You are left with an empty lot, and what have you achieved?

The latest study combined with past research indicates that a fasting-mimicking diet may have similar beneficial health effects for humans suffering from IBD (or who simply eat low-quality diets and want to mitigate some of the damage). However, a randomized clinical trial will be the next step in determining whether this diet is effective and safe as a treatment option in humans.