Inflammatory Arthritis and Intermittent Fasting
Last updated: March 2023
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so you should not take health advice from me. I am a chronic illness advocate and a health journalist, which means I turn to science for information about health and wellness. That said, the below article discusses eating and intermittent fasting, which may not be an appropriate subject for everyone. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for people with a history of disordered eating or certain health conditions. In short, speak with your doctor! This is only my experience.
In my day job as a freelance health writer, I do a lot of research. I fall down data rabbit holes. I read scientific studies and patient forums. I interview doctors and researchers. One day, I was researching an article about diet and inflammatory arthritis and came across some research around intermittent fasting (IF) and inflammation.
Hold up — what is intermittent fasting?
According to Hopkins Medicine, "Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating on a regular schedule."1 There are few options for how to pull this off. You can eat for eight hours and fast for 16, or eat for 12 hours and fast for 12. Some people eat every other day.
This eating pattern has been touted as a way toward greater health, including for those with inflammation.
Now, I am always incredibly skeptical about nearly any anti-inflammatory remedy or practice, and I always refer to the science. As a patient, I’ve had enough people tell me to "just meditate" or "drink wheatgrass" in order to "get rid of" my arthritis, but as a health journalist, I’ve seen my fair share of dubious reportage. There are especially plenty of dietary claims that are both dangerous and untrue. In short, I question everything I hear — and you should too.
Here's what science says about IF and inflammatory diseases and pain: One study showed IF reduced osteoarthritis symptoms2, and another review found that fasting may help people with rheumatoid arthritis3 and psoriatic arthritis4, even though researchers need more information. While some patients have found IF to be helpful, there is no science around how IF may help people with AxSpa.
How does intermitting fasting work for inflammation reduction?
But how does it work? According to Mount Sinai, "intermittent fasting reduced the release of pro-inflammatory cells called “monocytes” in blood circulation. Further investigations revealed that during periods of fasting, these cells go into “sleep mode” and are less inflammatory than monocytes found in those who were fed."5
My experience with intermittent fasting and ankylosing spondylitis
So, I decided to give it a try in March 2022. With the exception of two weeks, while I was traveling, I've been using IF nearly all week (with a break on weekends) for nearly three months. I generally eat for eight hours per day and fast for the other 16. At first, it sounded TOUGH. I love snacks at night. Give me all the snacks. I love bedtime snacks. Period.
But it got easier. I generally quit eating around 8pm and I start again around noon. For morning coffee, I drink black coffee with cinnamon. I still eat as normal and do not deprive myself of calories or delicious treats. I just eat within my window.
The results? I have seen and felt results. In fact, I had fewer flare-ups during my time intermittent fasting than ever before, and the only times I have flared is when I've broken my eating schedule. I also feel clearer and more energetic.
I'm not sure how long I will do IF, but for now it's been beneficial.
Warning: Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, so you should speak to your doctor before engaging in an eating pattern like this. For example, IF might not be right for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, people with kidney stones or diabetes, or people with a history of disordered eating, says Harvard Health.6
Have you tried IF?
Do you notice worsening flares in colder weather?