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How Fasting Reduces Inflammation: Insights from Cambridge Research

by 
 
Medically reviewed by 
Dr.
Amitha Kalaichandran
 
MD MHS
How Fasting Reduces Inflammation: Insights from Cambridge Research

Fasting has been a part of human tradition for thousands of years, serving not just spiritual purposes but also offering health benefits recognized by millions worldwide. Researchers have brought to light a groundbreaking discovery that adds a new layer to our understanding of fasting's benefits. They've found that fasting does more than we thought—it actively fights inflammation in our bodies, which is at the root of many chronic diseases. 

This new research reveals that when we fast, the amount of a chemical called arachidonic acid goes up in our blood. Even though this chemical was thought to make inflammation worse, it turns out it actually does the opposite—it helps reduce inflammation. 

This discovery is not just important because it helps us understand why fasting might be good for us, but it also gives scientists new clues about how some common medicines, like aspirin, work to reduce inflammation. This could be a big deal for a lot of people dealing with chronic diseases caused by too much inflammation.

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Understanding Inflammation and Chronic Diseases

Our bodies naturally employ inflammation as a defense against harm, such as infections or injuries. However, this well-intended mechanism can sometimes backfire, leading to chronic inflammation that is at the heart of many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. 

A key player in this process is the inflammasome, a complex within our cells designed to protect us but which can inadvertently fuel inflammation. Despite its protective intentions, the inflammasome can sometimes cause harm by triggering unintended inflammation.

The NLRP3 inflammasome in particular plays a pivotal role in the body's inflammatory response. While it serves to protect the body by eliminating harmful cells, it can also inadvertently trigger inflammation, contributing to the development of chronic diseases.

Diagnosing Inflammation

In the quest to manage and understand inflammation, medical professionals rely on several biomarker tests. These tests, while not specific to any single condition, play a crucial role in assessing the overall severity of inflammation within the body. Among these, the Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), Ferritin, and Fibrinogen stand out as the most commonly used indicators.

The Role of Fasting in Reducing Inflammation

The connection between fasting and reduced inflammation has long intrigued the medical community, but the mechanisms behind it remained elusive. To demystify this, Cambridge University researchers embarked on a study involving 21 volunteers who, after consuming a modest 500kcal meal, fasted for 24 hours before their next meal of the same calorie count. 

The findings were revealing: fasting elevated the levels of arachidonic acid, which, contrary to previous beliefs, appeared to suppress the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome, a critical instigator of inflammation. This revelation challenges our existing understanding of arachidonic acid. 

Instead of fueling the fires of inflammation, it seems to act as a molecular switch that turns down unnecessary inflammatory responses, especially those triggered without a genuine threat to the body. This function of arachidonic acid provides a compelling explanation for the anti-inflammatory benefits of fasting and suggests a broader implication for dietary control in managing inflammation.

While arachidonic acid's effects are short-lived, the research suggests that regular fasting could help reduce chronic inflammation associated with many age-related diseases prevalent in the Western world.

Implications for Diet and Drug Therapy

The study not only sheds light on how a high-calorie diet may increase the risk of chronic diseases through inflammasome activity but also suggests a potential mechanism behind the effectiveness of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. Aspirin may increase levels of arachidonic acid, reducing inflammasome activity and inflammation. 

Despite these promising findings medical guidance is important when considering aspirin for long-term disease prevention due to possible side effects.

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Key Takeaways

As the scientific community continues to unravel the complex relationships between diet, fasting, and inflammation, this study stands out as a significant step forward. It not only deepens our understanding of the body's response to fasting but also opens new avenues for developing dietary strategies and treatments to combat inflammation-driven diseases. With continued research and exploration, the future looks promising for harnessing the power of fasting in promoting health and wellness.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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References

1. C-Reactive Protein, Inflammation (CRP) by Access Medical Laboratories. (n.d.). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/lab-tests/access-medical-labs-c-reactive-protein-inflammation-crp

2. Ferritin by Access Med Labs. (n.d.). Rupa Health. Retrieved February 6, 2024, from https://www.rupahealth.com/lab-tests/access-medical-labs-ferritin

3. Fibrinogen by Access Med Labs. (n.d.). Rupa Health. Retrieved February 6, 2024, from https://www.rupahealth.com/lab-tests/access-medical-labs-fibrinogen

4. Preston, J. (2023, September 22). Addressing inflammation in chronic diseases: A functional medicine perspective. Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/addressing-inflammation-in-chronic-diseases-a-functional-medicine-perspective

5. Sedimentation rate (ESR) by access med labs. (n.d.). Rupa Health. Retrieved February 6, 2024, from https://www.rupahealth.com/lab-tests/access-medical-labs-sedimentation-rate-esr

6. University of Cambridge. (2024, January 30). Scientists identify how fasting may protect against inflammation. University of Cambridge. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/scientists-identify-how-fasting-may-protect-against-inflammation

7. Yoshimura, H. (2023, December 4). The healing potential and safe practices of extended fasting: A comprehensive guide. Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/the-healing-potential-and-safe-practices-of-extended-fasting-a-comprehensive-guide

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