A new study can help better understand how fasting helps reduce inflammation – a potentially harmful side-effect of the body’s immune system that is the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.
The study, conducted by researchers from Cambridge University, found that fasting raises levels of a chemical in the blood known as arachidonic acid, which inhibits inflammation. The findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.
Inflammation is often the body’s natural response to injury or infection. However, it can also be caused by other mechanisms such as by ‘inflammasome’, which acts like an alarm in the body’s cells, triggering inflammation to help protect the body when it senses damage, the university’s press statement explained.
However, the inflammasome can lead to inflammation unintentionally as one of its functions is to destroy unwanted cells, which can trigger the release of the cell’s contents into the body, causing inflammation.
“What's become apparent over recent years is that one inflammasome in particular – the NLRP3 inflammasome – is very important in several major diseases such as obesity and atherosclerosis, but also in diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, many of the diseases of older age people, particularly in the Western world,” study author Clare Bryant said in the statement.
Although studies have discovered that fasting can help reduce inflammation, the reason has not been clear. To understand this, the researchers studied blood samples of 21 volunteers, who ate a 500kcal meal and then fasted for 24 hours before consuming a second 500kcal meal.
The researchers found that found that restricting calorie intake increased levels of a lipid known as arachidonic acid. Lipids play crucial roles such as storing energy and communicating information between cells. They discovered that arachidonic acid reduces the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome. This could explain how fasting is linked to the reduction in inflammation, the researchers said.
Previous studies have also highlighted some benefits of fasting. For instance, a study presented at the European Nutrition Conference by researchers from King's College London in November 2023, showed that eating within a 10-hour window has positive health benefits in terms of mood, energy and hunger. Another study, published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, found that fasting, specifically intermittent fasting, might not only help people lose weight but also alter their gut bacteria.