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Fasting’s New Risk & Benefit Identified

Fights Type 2 Diabetes—Promotes Infections

The positive impact intermittent fasting has on type 2 diabetes.

By John Salak –

Fasting is all the rage, particularly intermittent fasting—and with good reason. The approach can help practitioners lose weight, promote cellular repair, reduce inflammation and may even lower the risk of cancer, according to Healthline.com.

New research out of Australia reports it may even lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is likely to be a relief to the approximately 30 million Americans who suffer from it. However, it’s not all good news on the fasting front. According to alternate research, the practice may hurt a person’s ability to fight infections while possibly increasing the risk of heart disease.

Fasting proponents will be relieved by work from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) that compared the impact of intermittent fasting to a reduced-calorie diet on people prone to developing type 2 diabetes. Fasting had a more beneficial impact.

“Following a time-restricted, intermittent fasting diet could help lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes,” reported senior author Leonie Heilbronn of the Adelaide Medical School.

“People who fasted for three days during the week, only eating between 8 am and 12 pm on those days, showed a greater tolerance to glucose after 6 months than those on a daily, low-calorie diet,” she explained. “Participants who followed the intermittent fasting diet were more sensitive to insulin and experienced a greater reduction in blood lipids than those on the low-calorie diet.”

These findings underscored the positive impact intermittent fasting has on type 2 diabetes. They also fall in line with estimates that about 60 percent of type 2 diabetes cases could be delayed or prevented with changes to diet and lifestyle.

Against this positive report, however, comes research developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. This work reported that fasting, particularly skipping breakfast, may undermine a person’s ability to fight off an infection. It, in turn, could increase the risk of heart disease.

The results not only focus on the short-term effects of fasting but may lead to a better understanding of how chronic fasting affects a person’s body.

“There is a growing awareness that fasting is healthy, and there is indeed abundant evidence for the benefits of fasting. Our study provides a word of caution as it suggests that there may also be a cost to fasting that carries a health risk,” warned lead author Filip Swirski, the organization’s Director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute. “This mechanistic study delves into some fundamental biology relevant to fasting. The study shows a conversation between the nervous and immune systems.”

The researchers specifically examined the impact of a relatively short fast of only a few hours to an extended fast of 24 hours using two groups of mice for subjects. One group ate breakfast right after waking up, and the other had no breakfast. Various blood samples were then collected from both groups.

The fasting group had a distinct drop in white blood cells compared to the other group. This puts the fasting group at risk because white blood cells play a critical role in fighting infections, heart disease and cancer.

Swirski emphasized that while there is evidence of fasting’s benefits, his study is also useful for developing a full understanding of the body’s mechanisms.

“The study shows that, on the one hand, fasting reduces the number of circulating monocytes, which one might think is a good thing, as these cells are important components of inflammation. On the other hand, the reintroduction of food creates a surge of monocytes flooding the blood, which can be problematic. Fasting, therefore, regulates this pool in ways that are not always beneficial to the body’s capacity to respond to a challenge such as an infection,” he explained.”

The dueling studies should neither deter nor encourage fasting but inform interested parties that there could be risks and benefits involved and that more research is needed to nail down the impact of fasting.





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