Thursday, January 16, 2003
Researchers are building a case for a food-related hormone's role in autoimmune diseases, suggesting that severe caloric restriction could help delay their onset and reduce their severity.
The hormone, leptin, is mainly produced in fat cells and helps regulate food intake and metabolism. It has also proven to promote and sustain the body's immune response by binding to cells that fight infection.
In the January 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Italian researchers report that in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis -- used as a model of multiple sclerosis, in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system -- leptin plays a key role.
Just prior to developing EAE symptoms, the mice had a burst of leptin. When they were subjected to a starvation diet, which prevents leptin production, the disease had a later onset and decreased severity.
"Once again we witness the remarkable choreography of molecules related to body weight and energy metabolism and the parallel roles of these same molecules in the finely tuned immune response," say Dr. Lawrence Steinman and colleagues at Stanford University in a commentary that accompanied the report. "These results imply that in autoimmunity, stress may be beneficial, and that short-term starvation may help reverse disease."
The study also suggests a reason for why women are more susceptible
to autoimmune diseases than men: Women produce more leptin.
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