Regular fasting could offer hope for people suffering with multiple sclerosis as scientists believe it might improve symptoms.
A human trial has begun after experiments in mice showed their symptoms improved when they were only given food every other day.
Experts hope changing people’s diet could allow them to manipulate the immune system, which is overactive and attacks the body in people with multiple sclerosis.
Encouraging results from a trial on a smaller group of people has inspired scientists to continue researching the therapy, which they say could be used alongside drugs.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) currently affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and 2.3 million people around the world, and damages the brain and nervous system.
The researchers at Washington University in St Louis say they hope their findings can help people suffering with the painful and debilitating condition.
In the trial half of participants will continue to eat a normal diet, while the other half will spend five days eating normally and limit themselves to 500 calories for the other two days.
The researchers hope to find out whether changes in the diet will affect people’s MS symptoms in the same way they did in mice trials.
Fasting every other day made mice less likely to have difficulty walking, limb weakness and paralysis – symptoms of the brain damage caused by MS.
Some of the fasting mice did develop MS-like symptoms, but they were less severe and took longer to develop than in the others.
In addition, the immune system was more controlled in the fasting mice and they had less inflammation – part of the immune response which can damage cells.
If fasting or reducing calorie intake has the same effect in humans, it could pave the way for new therapies to work alongside traditional medication.