Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular ways to lose weight, despite debate over its true benefits.
There are many different methods of intermittent fasting, and proponents of this diet claim that in addition to its ability to lose weight, it helps reduce blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Many critics have described intermittent fasting as an extreme diet. However, scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada recently conducted an experiment that indicates that fasting may have another benefit that can be added to the long list attributed to it.
The results concluded that fasting “may help protect against infection.”
When humans or animals become infected, they often lose their appetite. However, it is still not clear whether fasting can protect against infection or increase its susceptibility to infection.
To test this, the scientists made a group of mice fast for 48 hours and orally infected them with Salmonella enterica, a bacterium responsible for a high rate of gastroenteritis cases in humans.
A second group of mice got regular access to their usual diet before and during infection.
The scientists found that the fasted mice had fewer signs of bacterial infection and very little intestinal tissue damage compared to the mice that were fed.
But when they repeated the experiment with fasting mice infected with salmonella intravenously, the protective effect did not appear.
Nor did the effect appear when they repeated the experiment using germ-free mice, which are mice that have been bred to lack a normal microbiome.
The scientists noted that some of the effect was due to changes in the animals’ gut microbiomes.
The microbiome appears to trap nutrients that remain when food is limited.
According to the team, this prevents pathogens from gaining the energy they need to infect the host.
Dr Bruce Vallance, co-author of the study, said: ‘We saw an overall change in the composition of the microbiome, meaning an increase in some bacteria and a decrease in others. However, we did not show in our study which bacteria were specifically responsible for the protective effect, only the microbiome as a whole. Most of the protective effect of fasting is mediated because mice lacking the microbiome, which are devoid of germs, are not to the same degree protected from infection.”
The team now plans to investigate the effect of fasting on the microbiome while determining whether the absence or presence of certain bacteria is responsible for the protective effect.