Intermittent Fasting Benefits for Autoimmune Disorders

intermittent fasting and inflammation

Everyone fasts while they’re sleeping, but a popular way of eating known as intermittent fasting or IF now has many people extending that fast well into the day. There are a variety of IF protocols that you can follow, and there is a growing body of research that suggests intermittent fasting is an effective way to eliminate the inflammation that is a factor in all autoimmune disorders. We already know that fasting consistently can reverse type II diabetes, eliminate obesity and increase your resistance to cancer, so it’s not a far stretch to think of intermittent fasting as a solution for autoimmune disease.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Fasting was a natural part of our early ancestor’s lives because they had periods where food wasn’t plentiful, so fasting was the only option. Food is now abundant in many areas of the world, and it’s common for people to put something in their mouths most hours of the day. The food that we consume today is also loaded with gluten, fat, sugar, preservatives, pesticides, hormones and other things that weren’t consumed by our ancestors. Perhaps that is why a growing percentage of the population is obese and disease is rampant.

Research has now proven that there are many health benefits that come with setting food aside for at least 16 hours each day, including:

  • Natural fat loss
  • Improved energy
  • Greater mental clarity, focus
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Controlled blood pressure
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Reduced inflammation

Fasting can also eliminate damaged or decayed cells while generating new, healthy cells for all areas of your body through a process known as autophagy. This is one of the reasons that intermittent fasting is believed to effectively reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and many other life-threatening illnesses. The fasting periods give your body the time that it needs to regenerate on the cellular level.

Intermittent Fasting and Multiple Sclerosis

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society received a lot of attention in 2018 for sponsoring an upcoming study to look closely at the impact of intermittent fasting on MS. This is a result of research that showed the bacteria found in the gut microbiome of mice was significantly changed through intermittent fasting. Those changes had a positive impact on MS symptoms, so a small study was conducted with 16 people diagnosed with relapsing MS.

Researchers found that bacteria in the gut of the fasting MS patients was similar to that found in the gut of the fasting mice. Blood samples taken after a period of fasting also revealed molecular changes that are associated with reduced inflammation. This research will continue with another study of 40 MS patients willing to consume only 500 calories each day. They will maintain this restricted diet for two weeks, allowing researchers to determine the impact of fasting on MS.

While this upcoming research is generating a lot of buzz about intermittent fasting and multiple sclerosis, it’s important to note that most fasting protocols won’t restrict you to eating just 500 calories per day. The focus is more on restricting your eating to certain hours of the day so that your body is in a fasted state for at least 16 consecutive hours each day.

Many people who follow the 5:2 IF protocol allow themselves up to 500 calories per day on their two weekly fasting days. When those calories are consumed as one meal, it provides some nourishment for the body while maintaining a fasted state for the majority of the day. This is what the upcoming MS study will mimic, but they will do this type of fasting every day rather than only two days per week.

There have also been other studies in the recent past that point to IF as a potential cure for MS. One study published in a 2016 issue of the journal Cell Reports found that a fasting mimicking diet reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in 20 percent of participating mice. Other mice experienced a significant decrease in symptoms. The participants either followed a ketogenic diet or a calorie-restricted, low-protein diet to produce these results.

Further research is needed to prove that multiple sclerosis is effectively cured or even prevented through intermittent fasting, but many medical professionals are already suggesting this way of eating to patients.

Intermittent Fasting and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Since research into multiple sclerosis and IF has shown that fasting may fight MS symptoms by changing the composition of bacteria in the gut, it makes sense that fasting may also help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. It is believed that this autoimmune disease is caused at least partly by the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, leaky gut syndrome and other issues centered in the gut microbiome.

Since fasting is proven to change the bacteria in the gut, fasting for rheumatoid arthritis improvement isn’t out of the question. Dr. Fuhrman is one of the biggest advocates for IF, and his clinical research on human rheumatoid arthritis sufferers has shown that fasting combined with a vegan diet can reduce inflammation throughout the body while naturally reducing pain. He has also found that extended fasting can put this condition into remission, but this requires a fasting protocol that goes beyond intermittent fasting to include multiple days of consecutive fasting.

The use of intermittent fasting and vegetarian diets to control or even eliminate arthritis has been studied for many years. One study completed in 1979 found that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers reduced pain and stiffness while reducing their reliance on medication by fasting for up to 10 days and then following a lactovegetarian diet. This means that they consumed dairy products but eliminated meat and eggs. There have also been other studies that show improvements in rheumatoid arthritis when patients consume bone broth while fasting for at least seven days and then follow a vegan diet long term.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Intermittent Fasting

Inflammatory bowel disease is a category of disease that includes many autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s Disease. The number of people suffering from conditions like IBS, colitis and Crohn’s is increasing rapidly, and that is likely the result of modern dietary practices and a dramatic increase in the number of environmental toxins that are encountered in the modern world. Diseases of the digestive system are directly tied to the bacteria in the gut microbiome, so it’s not shocking that intermittent fasting can help.

Research published in 2016 showed that intermittent fasting has promise for people suffering from many inflammatory bowel diseases. The study was conducted on fruit flies and found that the barrier between the gut and the bloodstream was reinforced through the fasting process. This prevented bacteria from leaking out of the gut microbiome into the bloodstream, which is a common factor believed to cause much of the distress that comes with IBD.

Another study published in a 2017 issue of the Journal of Biochemistry and Nutrition found that mice suffering from colitis recovered from the illness faster after fasting for 36 consecutive hours. Inflammation was reduced, and healing of epithelial cells was accelerated through intermittent fasting.

More research is needed to prove that intermittent fasting is an effective treatment for irritable bowel disease, but many medical professionals are already recommending IF to patients suffering from Crohn’s Disease, IBS and many other illnesses that involve the digestive system. Further research will show which fasting protocols are the most effective for each disorder.

What Is the Best Intermittent Fasting Protocol?

If you have an autoimmune disease or at high risk of developing one due to excessive inflammation, you may want to give intermittent fasting a try. It’s considered safe for most people, but you may want to check with your doctor if you take prescription medication or have other health issues that may be impacted by short periods of fasting.

The most common approach to intermittent fasting is to skip breakfast and limit eating to an eight-hour window each day. This is the 16:8 IF protocol, so you can eat breakfast and eliminate dinner if you prefer to open your eating window earlier in the day. This is the easiest plan to manage because you have a long eating window that allows you to consume two or three meals, but it’s not always the most effective if you hope to maximize the health or weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting.

Intermittent Fasting 16-8

If you follow the 16:8 protocol for at least two weeks and don’t notice any change in your autoimmune disorder symptoms, you can try narrowing your eating window. The longer you fast, the more likely you are to receive the benefits.

Many medical professionals recommend the 5:2 plan, which means that you fast two days out of the week and eat normally for five days. You want to spread the fasting days throughout the week so that they aren’t consecutive, and you may allow yourself up to 500 calories consumed in a single meal on your fasting days. Eventually, you may find that you can eliminate the 500 calories for a complete 24-hour fast two times per week.

Alternate-day fasting is another effective IF plan. You simply fast one day and eat normally the next, with or without the 500 calories on fasting days. This rotation means that you will fast two days one week and three days the next. This gives you longer periods of fasting that are more likely to put your body into ketosis and lead to autophagy, allowing your body to heal itself at the cellular level.

Intermittent Fasting Safety Tips

IF is considered safe for most people, but you should talk to your medical provider first if you take prescription medications or have other health issues that are sensitive to your dietary patterns. Many medical doctors aren’t up to date with the research and have little to no training in the medicinal use of nutrition and fasting, so you might want to talk to a specialist in functional medicine. There are medical doctors who specialize in functional medicine, but your insurance may not cover all of their services.

If you want to try IF to see what impact it may have on your autoimmune symptoms, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Drink a lot of water while fasting. Many people also consume black coffee or tea without any sweeteners. This keeps your body hydrated even though you aren’t receiving the fluid that is normally delivered through your food.
  • It’s important to consume nutrient-dense foods during your eating window. Your body still needs the vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids and other nutrients that can only come from food, and you have a limited period of time to deliver what your body needs. A well-balanced diet with a lot of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats is adequate, but a vegetarian diet is best if you have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • If you fast for more than 18 hours and are worried about electrolyte imbalance, try sipping bone broth throughout the day or eating a bit of pink Himalayan salt. Most people don’t have electrolyte issues when eating at least one big meal each day. Those issues are usually more problematic for extended fasting protocols that require more than 24 hours of consistent fasting.
  • Don’t restrict your calories excessively during your eating window. Focus on nutritious foods that nourish your body and fill your stomach rather than deprivation. IF is all about consuming food in a limited period of time, but you should never feel like you’re starving.
  • Ease into workouts on your fasting days, especially if you fast for a full 24 hours. There are many benefits to fasted exercise, especially if you do high-intensity interval training. Some people need to take their intensity down on fasting days while others find that they have more energy when fasting. Take it easy when you start to see how your body reacts to fasting. Staying hydrated is even more important if you want to workout on fasting days.

If you want to try intermittent fasting, start by learning about the various fasting strategies to select a schedule that will work with your daily routine. Many people choose to fast while at work because their mind is distracted and they can increase productivity by not stopping for meals.