Researchers at Cambridge may have found a novel method of using fasting to lower inflammation, which is the immune system’s potentially harmful side effect and the cause of many chronic illnesses, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Arachidonic acid is a blood molecule that is elevated while fasting and has the anti-inflammatory properties. It might also help explain some of the positive effects of medications like aspirin, according to the researchers. Scientists have long recognized that our food, especially the high-calorie Western diet, can raise our risk of developing chronic inflammation-related disorders like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The body’s natural response to injury or infection is inflammation, but there are other systems that can trigger this process, such as the ‘inflammasome’, which acts as an alarm clock in our cells, triggering inflammation to help our body defend itself when it detects damage. However, the inflammasome can inadvertently cause inflammation as one of its functions is to kill unwanted cells, which can cause the contents of the cell to leak into the body and cause inflammation. (Also read: Longevity to mental clarity; 5 benefits of intermittent fasting )
How fasting can protect against inflammation-related diseases
Professor Clare Bryant of the University of Cambridge’s medical department reportedly stated to inews.co.uk, “We’re very interested in trying to understand the causes of chronic inflammation in the context of many human diseases, and in particular the role of the inflammasome.”
He further revealed, “In recent years, it has become clear that one inflammasome in particular, the NLRP3 inflammasome, is very important in many major diseases, including obesity and atherosclerosis, but also in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as many diseases that affect older adults, especially in the Western world.”
It comes after the Prime Minister declared that, as part of a “balanced lifestyle,” fasting once a week was an “important discipline” for him. The Sunday Times revealed over the weekend that Rishi Sunak fasts for thirty-six hours at the beginning of every week.
Although the exact cause is unknown, fasting has been shown to help reduce inflammation. Blood samples from a group of 21 volunteers were analysed by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the National Institute for Health in the USA. The volunteers had eaten a 500-calorie meal, fasted for 24 hours and then eaten another 500-calorie meal.
The group found that calorie restriction increased levels of arachidonic acid, a type of lipid. Molecules known as lipids are essential to our bodies because they store energy and facilitate the transfer of information between cells. As soon as the people ate again, their arachidonic acid levels fell.
Researchers have observed that arachidonic acid inhibits the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome in immune cells cultivated in the lab. This was unexpected because it was previously believed that arachidonic acid was associated with elevated rather than lowered levels of inflammation.
“This provides a potential explanation for how changing our diet – in particular by fasting – protects us from inflammation, especially the damaging form that underlies many diseases related to a Western high-calorie diet,” said Professor Bryant, a fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge to inews.co.uk.
“The effects of arachidonic acid are transient, so it’s too soon to tell if fasting prevents diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but our research adds to the mounting body of evidence in favour of the health advantages of calorie restriction. It implies that prolonged periods of frequent fasting may be able to lessen the chronic inflammation that is linked to these illnesses. It’s undoubtedly a charming concept,” Professor Bryant revealed.
The results also suggest one method via which eating a diet high in calories could raise the chance of developing certain diseases. Research has indicated that elevated levels of inflammasome activity are seen in certain patients who consume a high-fat diet. Professor Bryant speculated that there might be a yin and yang dynamic at play here, with too much of the incorrect substance raising your inflammasome activity and too little lowering it. “Arachidonic acid may be a possible mechanism for this.”
According to the researchers, the finding might also provide hints about an unanticipated mechanism of action for aspirin and other so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Aspirin inhibits the body’s natural ability to break down arachidonic acid quickly, which can raise the acid’s levels and thereby lower inflammation and inflammasome activity.
The research is published in Cell Reports.