Add another benefit to the ever-growing list of good things associated with intermittent fasting. A new study from Imperial College London has found intermittent fasting in mice has the ability to help heal nerve damage.
Researchers observed how intermittent fasting led to the increased production of a certain metabolite required for regenerating nerve fibers. The metabolite 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA) is made in the gut of the mice. IPA is needed for the development of the nerve fibers called axons, which are thread-like structures at the end of nerve cells. They are responsible for sending out electrochemical signals to other cells in the body.
The length of the regrown axons in the study was 50% longer in the mice that had been fasting. While the study was done on mice, the same gut bacteria that produces IPA, Clostridium sporogenesis, is also found in humans. Researchers hope they will see the same results in human trials.
"There is currently no treatment for people with nerve damage beyond surgical reconstruction, which is only effective in a small percentage of cases, prompting us to investigate whether changes in lifestyle could aid recovery," said study author Professor Simone Di Giovanni from Imperial's Department of Brain Sciences. "Intermittent fasting has previously been linked by other studies to wound repair and the growth of new neurons—but our study is the first to explain exactly how fasting might help heal nerves."
Half of the mice were restricted to eating as much as they wanted every other day. On the off days they ate nothing. The rest ate as much as they wanted every day. The mice were then monitored to see how the sciatic nerve responded after being severed. That’s when the growth was seen in the fasting mice.
"I think the power of this is that opens up a whole new field where we have to wonder: is this the tip of an iceberg?” Professor Di Giovanni said. "Are there going to be other bacteria or bacteria metabolites that can promote repair?"
Scientists wanted to confirm it was the IPA that led to the nerve repair so they gave antibiotics to some mice to wipe out all gut bacteria. They were then given a genetically-modified strain of Clostridium sporogenesis which does not produce IPA.
"When IPA cannot be produced by these bacteria and it was almost absent in the serum, regeneration was impaired," Professor Di Giovanni said. "This suggests that the IPA generated by these bacteria has an ability to heal and regenerate damaged nerves."
Some mice were given IPA orally which resulted in some nerve regeneration and recovery. That further confirmed the importance of IPA in the nerve development process.