Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer ★ ★★ ★ ★
I gave my first on using diet as a potential symptomatic and disease-modifying treatment for MS and as a preventative therapeutic strategy in MS, last night.
The symptomatic part of my talk was about food coma and using diet to prevent or reduce the impact of food coma. We are still studying why pwMS are so susceptible to food coma. I suspect it is because they have less cognitive reserve and food coma may interact with other medications to make it such a problem.
The really interesting part of my talk was using caloric restriction (CR), intermittent fasting (IF) or ketogenic (K) diet as a DMT. I suspect the mode of action of all these diets is via ketosis and inducing high levels of circulating β-hydroxybutyrate one of the ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are the source of energy the body uses when we have depleted our sugar stores (glycogen) and are fasting or not absorbing sugar from the gut.
Interestingly, β-hydroxybutyrate works via the hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 2 (HCA2), which is also known as niacin receptor 1 (NIACR1) and GPR109A. Why is this so important? This is the same receptor that fumaric acid works on. Yes, ketosis works at a cellular level in the same way that dimethyl fumarate (DMF) and diroximel fumarate work, i.e licensed MS DMTs.
Yes, CR/IF/K diet may induce a metabolic pathway that is known to be disease-modifying in MS.
There is an extensive literature, which I discovered about two years ago, showing that β-hydroxybutyrate works via NRF2 and downregulates NFKappa-B, the master inflammatory transcription factor. In other words ketosis, in particular β-hydroxybutyrate promotes programmed cell survival via the NRF2 two pathway and is also anti-inflammatory. β-hydroxybutyrate may even be better than the fumarates as a treatment for MS because it is likely to penetrate the CNS better than oral fumarates.
The corollary of the above could also explain why a processed and ultra-processed high carbohydrate diet is pro-inflammatory. Most people put it down to the pro-inflammatory signals from adipose tissue, but it could be related to the fact that carbohydrates, via insulin, inhibit ketosis and suppress β-hydroxybutyrate levels in the body.
Another nugget of information I found is that metformin also works via NRF2, but not via the HCA2 receptor. This may explain why metformin promotes rejuvenation of oligodendrocyte precursors and is being explored as a potential remyelination therapy in MS.
I have also discovered whilst reading the NRF2 literature that some statins, including simvastatin, activate NRF2. Could this be a potential mode of action of simvastatin in MS?
I didn’t have time to discuss MS prevention last night. However, we think that about 10-20% of the increase in MS incidence may be caused by childhood and adolescent obesity. This is why we are pushing for policy on sugar and a national campaign to tackle this problem.
So when I say I have declared war on sugar, I mean it in more ways than you realise.
Despite observational evidence showing that pwMS do well on CR/IF/K diets, the studies show that they are generally safe. However, we need controlled evidence before promoting these pwMS as a potential adjunctive treatment for MS. The good news is that there are ongoing studies looking into this. The one below is actually using MRI to see if a ketogenic diet has an impact on MRI activity, i.e. the inflammatory component of MS.
Are you up for biohacking your metabolism as a treatment for your MS?
Bahr et al. Ketogenic Diet and Fasting Diet as Nutritional Approaches in Multiple Sclerosis (NAMS): Protocol of a Randomized Controlled Study. Trials, 21 (1), 3 2020 Jan 2.
Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common inflammatory disease of the central nervous system in young adults that may lead to progressive disability. Since pharmacological treatments may have substantial side effects, there is a need for complementary treatment options such as specific dietary approaches. Ketone bodies that are produced during fasting diets (FDs) and ketogenic diets (KDs) are an alternative and presumably more efficient energy source for the brain. Studies on mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis showed beneficial effects of KDs and FDs on disease progression, disability, cognition and inflammatory markers. However, clinical evidence on these diets is scarce. In the clinical study protocol presented here, we investigate whether a KD and a FD are superior to a standard diet (SD) in terms of therapeutic effects and disease progression.
Methods: This study is a single-center, randomized, controlled, parallel-group study. One hundred and eleven patients with relapsing-remitting MS with current disease activity and stable immunomodulatory therapy or no disease-modifying therapy will be randomized to one of three 18-month dietary interventions: a KD with a restricted carbohydrate intake of 20-40 g/day; a FD with a 7-day fast every 6 months and 14-h daily intermittent fasting in between; and a fat-modified SD as recommended by the German Nutrition Society. The primary outcome measure is the number of new T2-weighted MRI lesions after 18 months. Secondary endpoints are safety, changes in relapse rate, disability progression, fatigue, depression, cognition, quality of life, changes of gut microbiome as well as markers of inflammation, oxidative stress and autophagy. Safety and feasibility will also be assessed.
Discussion: Preclinical data suggest that a KD and a FD may modulate immunity, reduce disease severity and promote remyelination in the mouse model of MS. However, clinical evidence is lacking. This study is the first clinical study investigating the effects of a KD and a FD on disease progression of MS.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT03508414.