Stop-start fasting method effective in tackling obesity, study thinks

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/ThamKC
©iStock/ThamKC
Sporadic periods of fasting over four months may prove fruitful in obese people and those with metabolic disorders, after a study observed benefits to health after only six weeks.

Experimenting on mice, Korean scientists found the approach aided in kick starting the animals' metabolism by burning fat in order to generate body heat.

"Intermittent fasting without a reduction in calorie intake can be a preventative and therapeutic approach against obesity and metabolic disorders,"​ said study co-author Dr Kyoung-Han Kim, assistant professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

The study findings are all the more relevant given the modern lifestyles’ preference for longer periods of daily energy intake and shorter fasting periods.

This erratic eating pattern is associated with metabolic disadvantages and contributes to the current global obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Intermittent fasting (IF), has been shown to provide health benefits equivalent to prolonged fasting or caloric restriction (CR).

Study details

The team exposed groups of mice to 16 weeks of intermittent fasting, where the animals were fed for two days, followed by one day without anything to eat. No adjustments were made to calorie intake.

In a follow-up four months later the mice in the fasting group weighed less than those in the control group who continued to eat the same volume of food.

Additionally, the fasting regime helped lower white fat build-up by increasing the brown- fat involved in burning energy and producing body heat in mice on the high fat diet. Their glucose and insulin systems also remained more stable.

In a further experiment, similar benefits were observed after only six weeks of intermittent fasting.

Strikingly, these fasting-stimulated changes in the growth of vascular cells and subsequent immune alterations occur even after a single cycle of 24-hour fasting, and are completely reversed when mice start eating again,"​ said fellow study author Dr Yun Hye Kim from the Translational Medicine Program, The Hospital for Sick Children based in Ontario, Canada.

In determining a mechanism of action, the team believe that IF triggers an immune reaction in fat cells, invoking changes in certain gene pathways and the body's reaction to inflammation.

“The anti-inflammatory white blood cell, known as a macrophage, appears to stimulate fat cells to burn stored fats or lipids by generating heat,”​ the study hypothesized.  

“This happens during periods of intermittent fasting because there is an increase in vascular growth factor (VEGF) that help form blood vessels and activate anti-inflammatory macrophage.”

Source: Cell Research

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1038/cr.2017.126

“Intermittent fasting promotes adipose thermogenesis and metabolic homeostasis via VEGF-mediated alternative activation of macrophage.”

Authors: Kyoung-Han Kim et al.

Related topics: Science, Sugar, salt and fat reduction

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