top of page

How can fasting protect against infections and chronic diseases?

Scientists have discovered a new way in which fasting helps reduce inflammation, a potentially harmful side effect of the body's immune system that underlies a number of chronic diseases.

In a paper published in the journal Cell Reports, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge describes how fasting raises levels of a chemical in the blood known as arachidonic acid, which prevents inflammation.

Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection, but this process can be stimulated through other mechanisms, including what is called an "inflammasome" that acts as an alarm inside the body's cells, triggering inflammation to help protect the body when it senses damage. But the inflammasome can lead to inflammation in unintended ways. One of its functions is to destroy unwanted cells, which may lead to the release of cell contents into the body, where they lead to inflammation.

Professor Clare Bryant, from the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: “We are 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. What has become clear over recent years is that one inflammasome, in particular the inflammasome "NLRP3 is very important in a number of major diseases such as obesity and atherosclerosis, but also in diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and many diseases of the elderly, especially in the Western world."

Does Fasting really help to reduce inflammation? the reason is not clear.

To help get a clear answer, a team led by Professor Bryant and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Health in the United States studied blood samples from a group of 21 volunteers. They ate a meal containing 500 calories and then fasted for 24 hours, before eating the second meal, which... It also contains 500 calories.

The team found that restricting calorie intake increased levels of a fat known as arachidonic acid. Fats are molecules that play important roles in our bodies, such as storing energy and transmitting information between cells. Once individuals eat a meal again, arachidonic acid levels decrease.

When researchers studied the effect of arachidonic acid on immune cells grown in the laboratory, they found that it reduces the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome.

This surprised the team, as arachidonic acid was previously thought to be associated with increased levels of inflammation, not decreased levels.

Professor Bryant added: "This offers a possible explanation for how changing our diet, particularly through fasting, protects us from inflammation, especially the harmful form that underlies many of the diseases associated with the high-calorie Western diet."

He continued: “It is too early to say whether fasting protects against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, because the effects of arachidonic acid are only short-term, but our work adds to a growing amount of scientific research that indicates the health benefits of calorie restriction. It indicates that fasting "Regular over a long period could help reduce the chronic inflammation we associate with these conditions. It's certainly an attractive idea."

The findings also point to one mechanism by which a high-calorie diet may increase the risk of these diseases.

Studies have shown that some patients who follow a high-fat diet have increased levels of inflammasome activity.

Source: Medical Press - Publication date: 02/03/2024 -

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page