Fasting may improve recovery from spinal cord injury, the New Scientist reported on Thursday on its website, quoting the result of a new rodent study.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, created lesions in the spinal cords of a group of rats and injured rats, and fed them only on alternate days. After several months, the rats showed half the spinal cord damage compared with their normally fed counterparts.
Inspection of the rodents’ spinal cords revealed that the lesions were 50 percent smaller in the fasting animals than the control animals. Over the course of the two months following the initial spinal injury, fasting rats showed slightly better improvement in their ability to complete a ladder-climbing task than their counterparts.
According to the report, other studies have shown that a calorie restricted diet started several months before an injury such as stroke can protect neurons from dying.
Researchers suspect that fasting helps because it dampens the body’s immune system, causing fewer overzealous immune cells to reach the site of spinal injury and these cells sometimes block off the site of injury to such an extent that they prevent nerve regeneration.
Calorie restriction appears to make the cells in the spinal cord more sensitive to growth-promoting proteins.
Spinal cord biopsies from the animals in the study showed that the cells of fasting rats had more functional copies of a receptor that responds to a chemical that boosts nerve growth.
The study findings may seem counterintuitive, since people who are sick are often encouraged to eat more to help their body heal.