Fasting may be an effective way to start a diet

Scientists from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine at the Helmholtz Association believe that those who need to change their eating habits in order to normalize their blood pressure or lose weight should start by fasting. According to experts, taking breaks from eating improves the function of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. The work was published in the journal Nature Communications.

More than 70 volunteers with metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure participated in this study. All participants followed the DASH diet (a special diet for the prevention and treatment of hypertension) for three months. Its composition was close to the Mediterranean diet, as it included a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, nuts and legumes, fish, and lean white meat. A portion of the volunteers had to fast before starting the diet. 

Scientists first began to observe the changes in the immune cells against the background of the change in diet. It turned out that the innate immune system remained stable during the fast, while the adaptive immune system shut down. During this period, the number of pro-inflammatory T cells decreased and the number of regulatory T cells increased. As a result, the changes in the immune cells correlated positively with weight: the body mass index was lower among participants who adhered to the fasting regimen.

In addition, the specialists studied stool samples of the participants to evaluate the effect of starvation on the gut microbiota. They found that fasting caused changes in the composition of the microbiome, leading to a steady improvement in blood pressure, which was not observed in subjects who only followed the DASH diet. Blood pressure values remained at normal levels for three months after fasting.  

"If a high-fiber, low-fat diet isn't working, maybe the problem is that there aren't enough bacteria in the microbiota that turn fiber into healthy fatty acids. Starvation acts as a catalyst for these bacteria, so we can recommend combining diet with starvation," says co-author Dr. Sofia Forslund. 

April 5, 2021, 12:57 p.m.

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