December 14

Fasting for Autoimmune Diseases |


Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The strongest evidence of the benefits of fasting surrounds the treatment of an autoimmune joint disease known as rheumatoid arthritis, as I detailed in my last video. There was a German study suggesting benefits for osteoarthritis as well, with reported improvements in pain and joint function. But we’d really need randomized controlled studies to know for sure. The researchers despair that they only had 30 patients, but that’s 30 times more than many reports on fasting in the medical literature, which may detail only single cases.

For example, a woman with a rare autoimmune disease known as mixed connective-tissue disease, which can cause all sorts of painful and distressing symptoms, treated with steroids in an attempt to suppress her immune system; but 21 days later, off her medications, her symptoms improved with fasting and, more importantly, seemed to stay away. So, does fasting work for mixed connective-tissue disease? Well, all we can say is that hey, at least it worked at least once.

A similar success story was reported with fibromyalgia: a woman with pain throughout her body, couldn’t sustain activity, on lots of drugs, but ended up symptom-free 24 days later, and remained that way at least a month later. But when a modified fasting regimen was tried on dozens of individuals, the benefits seen at two weeks largely disappeared by week 12.

What about lupus? A 45-year-old woman remaining in pain despite her immunosuppressive drugs, but pain-free by day four of fasting, and remained symptom-free for one year, before wiping them out again with a second fast. Now, note this wasn’t just fasting, but fasting followed by a plant-based diet in an attempt to solidify the gains. And a strictly plant-based diet—zero animal protein—alone has been shown to control symptoms in at least some cases.

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The same with sacroiliitis, a common manifestation of ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune arthritis that primarily affects the spine, causing back pain that can last for years. They tried all sorts of conventional therapies and drugs, but the pain still didn’t go away. So, they tried recommending the complete avoidance of animal foods, and saw distinct persistent improvement within days—until he ate meat again. But back on plant-based nutrition, he was off most of his drugs, almost completely free of symptoms. So at least in this case, inflammatory pain refractory to other treatment was abolished by eating healthier; so, hey, at least it’s worth a try.

Autoimmune glomerulonephritis, where your body attacks your own kidneys, is a common manifestation of lupus. In a case series of 29 patients who were fasted for 60 hours and then just put on fruits and vegetables until they got better, described such remarkable recoveries that fasting, in their opinion, “should be an essential part of treatment.”

What about multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune nerve disease?  Sufferers were randomized to a “fasting mimicking diet,” meaning a modified fast that started out with an 800-calorie-a-day diet of fruit, rice, or potatoes, and then they spent a week sipping a few hundred calories of flaxseed oil and vegetable broth before transitioning to a plant-based Mediterranean diet. Over the next three months, they experienced a significant improvement in overall quality of life. They also tried a ketogenic diet, but that failed to offer clinically or statistically significant overall benefit.

And finally, chronic urticaria (hives), where you get a rash of itchy weals and welts, started to improve on day three of the fast, and completely disappeared by day 11. This is consistent with studies out of Germany and Japan that evidently showed around a 75 percent effectiveness for such patients with what looks like some sort of tea-with-sugar diet. It’s certainly worth giving fasting therapy a try, but of course fasting should only be done under trained medical supervision. Otherwise, you’d never know if you have some hidden underlying kidney issue that could land you in a coma and then in the morgue. You have to have your kidney function and electrolytes monitored to make sure your body is up for the challenge.

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“Despite the [potential benefits,] water-only fasting is…not a cure or treatment in the traditional sense; it is simply intended to promote the body’s self-healing mechanisms.” Since, by definition, fasting is unsustainable, “in order to maintain the results obtained by water-only fasting, it is necessary to adhere to a health-promoting lifestyle that includes a [healthy] diet of minimally processed plant foods, …sleep, and …exercise.”

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