Can doctors use intermittent fasting for nerve damage?
A recent research study 1 from scientists at London’s Imperial College found that intermittent fasting in mice resulted in a significant regrowth of an injured sciatic nerve. The study, done in the Department of Brain Sciences, found that intermittent fasting of greater than 24 hours led to changes in the gut microbiome of the mice and increased production of the chemical, 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA), which has been found to help with nerve axon regeneration.
IPA also works as a powerful anti-oxidant and has a potential benefit over other antioxidants such as melatonin since 3-indolepropionic acid does not produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) products with its anti-oxidant effect. IPA is made in the gut microbiome by Clostridium sporogenes.
In this intermittent fasting study, the gut microbiome of the mice was eradicated with antibiotics and then the mice had the Clostridium sporogenes bacteria reintroduced into their intestines. Researchers used a genetically modified version of Clostridium sporogenes in one group of mice where the bacteria did not produce 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA), where another group of mice received normal-functioning Clostridium sporogenes that made the 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA). In the group of rats that recieved the 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA) Clostridium sporogenes bacteria, there was measurable healing of the nerve damage compared to the rats that received the non-3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA) Clostridium sporogenes bacteria.
In the dietary/intermittent fasting portion of the study, the intermittent fasting group of mice were allowed to eat one day but then restricted from eating the next day, so essentially fasted for 48 hours between meals for an alternate-day fasting schedule while another group of mice were allowed to eat every day. The group of alternate-day fasting mice were found to have higher levels of IPA in their blood compared to the mice on the regular eating schedule and the intermittent fasting mice also showed some nerve repair over 72 hours when the sciatic nerve was damaged in these mice.
The researchers plan to study the impact of intermittent fasting and 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA) levels and its potential to heal spinal cord injuries in mice as well as studying if giving oral 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA) in several doses thru the day can also improve the healing of nerve damage
This study follows earlier research by other scientists that looked at the impact of either fasting or ketogenic diets in nerve injury in rats 2 that found some positive improvement in multiple studies.
Since the gut metabolite indole-3 propionate (IPA) promoted axonal regeneration after sciatic nerve crush in mice through an unexpected mechanism that relies on the gram-positive gut microbiome and an increase in the gut, this finding may have implications for the development of new treatments for nerve damage in humans.
The real question becomes how do these results of intermittent fasting for improving nerve damage in rats translate to nerve damage in humans.
Otherwise, there’s not any direct information linking intermittent fasting or prolonged fasting to nerve damage specifically. However, there is some research indicating that intermittent fasting may have positive effects on neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (source: National Institute on Aging). Additionally, there is some evidence that fasting may have anti-inflammatory effects and promote cellular regeneration, which could potentially aid in nerve damage recovery (source: PubMed). However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of fasting for nerve damage specifically.