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CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Fasting may help reduce inflammation – creating a potential cure-all for multiple diseases, a new study explains. Inflammation, while a natural response to injury or infection, can also erupt due to a multiprotein known as inflammasome. Researchers in the United Kingdom now warn that inflammasome has a link to chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Experts from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the National Institute for Health, reveal that fasting or calorie restriction can decrease the activity of inflammasome. This reduction occurs by increasing levels of arachidonic acid in the blood, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

“What’s become apparent over recent years is that one inflammasome in particular – the NLRP3 inflammasome – is very important in several major diseases such as obesity and atherosclerosis, but also in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which mostly affect older age people in the Western world,” explains Professor Bryant from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine in a media release.

“Our research provides a potential explanation for how changing our diet – in particular by fasting – protects us from inflammation, especially the damaging form that underpins many diseases related to a Western high-calorie diet.”

The study involved 21 volunteers who consumed a 500-calorie meal, fasted for 24 hours, and then ate another 500-calorie meal. Results indicate that calorie restriction elevated arachidonic acid levels, thereby diminishing the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome. However, these levels decreased once the participants resumed eating, leading to less protection against inflammation.

red and white coca cola can beside brown bread on white ceramic plate
Researchers say people who eat a lot of high-fat foods tend to have higher levels of inflammasome activity in their bodies. (Credit: Photo by HamZa NOUASRIA on Unsplash)

This research sheds light on the longstanding knowledge that a high-calorie Western diet can heighten the risk of inflammation-related diseases.

“There could be a yin and yang effect going on here, whereby too much of the wrong thing is increasing your inflammasome activity and too little is decreasing it,” says Prof. Bryant. “Arachidonic acid could be one way in which this is happening.”

The researchers caution it is premature to claim that fasting is a preventative measure for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“It’s too early to say whether fasting protects against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but our work adds to a growing amount of scientific literature that points to the health benefits of calorie restriction,” Prof. Bryant notes. “It suggests that regular fasting over a long period could help reduce the chronic inflammation we associate with these conditions. It’s certainly an attractive idea.”

The study also offers insights into the beneficial effects of drugs like aspirin. Normally, arachidonic acid is quickly broken down in the body, but aspirin inhibits this process, leading to increased levels of arachidonic acid and reduced inflammation.

“It’s important to stress that aspirin should not be taken to reduce the risk of long-term diseases without medical guidance, as it can have side effects such as stomach bleeds if taken over a long period,” Prof. Bryant adds.

The research is published in the journal Cell Reports.

South West News Service writer Imogen Howse contributed to this report.

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