SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Intermittent fasting, characterized by cyclic periods of fasting and eating, has emerged as a popular weight loss approach in recent years. Interestingly, however, a new study reports intermittent fasting can benefit the body in yet another way: reducing inflammation.
Scientists from the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute conclude intermittent fasting can increase levels of galectin-3, a protein linked to bodily inflammatory responses.
“Inflammation is associated with higher risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. We’re encouraged to see evidence that intermittent fasting is prompting the body to fight inflammation and lowering those risks,” says Benjamin Horne, PhD, principal investigator of the study and director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute, in a media release.
These findings are actually only a portion of Intermountain’s WONDERFUL Trial, which found that intermittent fasting can also help reduce both metabolic syndrome score (MSS) and insulin resistance. This inflammation-specific portion of the trial included 67 patients (ages 21-70) dealing with at least one metabolic syndrome feature or type 2 diabetes. All participants had elevated LDL cholesterol levels and weren’t taking any anti-diabetic or statin medications.
Intermittent fasting acts like a diabetes drug?
A total of 36 of those patients started an intermittent fasting schedule, consisting of only drinking water for a full 24 hours twice per week for a total of four weeks. Then, the routine changed to fasting and drinking only water just one day per week for the following 22 weeks. The participants never fasted on consecutive days. Meanwhile, the other 31 study participants did not make any dietary or lifestyle changes.
After 26 weeks, study authors measured everyone’s galectin-3 levels, finding much higher amounts among the fasting group. The team also noted lower rates of both HOMA-IR (insulin resistance) and MSS (metabolic syndrome) among the fasting group. Study authors theorize these effects could be similar to SGLT-2 inhibitors, a type of drug used to lower high glucose levels primarily among type 2 diabetes patients.
“In finding higher levels of galectin-3 in patients who fasted, these results provide an interesting mechanism potentially involved in helping reduce the risk of heart failure and diabetes,” Dr. Horne adds.
“Unlike some IF diet plans that are incredibly restrictive and promise magic weight loss, this isn’t a drastic form of fasting. The best routine is one that patients can stick to over the long term, and this study shows that even occasional fasting can have positive health effects.”
Researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021.