A low-calorie diet may help alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
That’s according to experiments with mice with IBD who were fed a low-calorie, low-protein diet and had reduced intestinal inflammation and a regenerated gut as a result.
In humans, IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which both cause inflammation of the intestines. They have been associated with a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including a diet high in animal protein.
Valter Longo and his colleagues at the University of Southern California fed 18 mice with IBD symptoms a reduced-calorie diet of plant-based foods over four days.
This fasting-mimicking diet increased stem cells in the gut, a sign of regeneration, and also reversed inflammation-associated shrinking of the colon.
A second group of 11 mice on a water-only fasting diet also showed some gut improvements, but didn’t experience any reversal of inflammation symptoms.
In both groups, the team found an increase in the gut bacteria Lactobacillus, and that transplants of this microbe reversed IBD symptoms. “A number of studies indicate that it is protective against IBD in mice and humans,” says Longo.
He believes the low-calorie diet helped to repopulate the gut with Lactobacillus, which is responsible for improving symptoms.
The fasting-mimicking diet has previously been trialled in people without IBD. “We know it works well to reduce inflammation and the associated increase in white blood cells in humans,” says Longo, so it has the potential to be effective against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.