Fasting could provide “enormous potential” in managing or preventing inflammation which is thought to contribute to type 2 diabetes, US researchers have said.

A team from the Mount Sinai hospital report that fasting also improves chronic inflammatory diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Fasting has been shown to help lower HbA1c in people with type 2 diabetes, with a study published last month also showing that intermittent fasting could prevent a build-up of fat in the pancreas that could protect against type 2 diabetes.

“Caloric restriction is known to improve inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, but the mechanisms by which reduced caloric intake controls inflammation have been poorly understood,” said senior author Dr Miriam Merad, Director of the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

To understand the mechanisms behind fasting more clearly, Dr Merad and colleagues tested the effects of fasting on both human and mouse cells.

They discovered that intermittent fasting kick-started the release of ‘monocytes’, a collection of pro-inflammatory cells. During fasting periods these cells go into sleep mode and are less inflammatory than the cells that had been fed.

“Monocytes are highly inflammatory immune cells that can cause serious tissue damage, and the population has seen an increasing amount in their blood circulation as a result of eating habits that humans have acquired in recent centuries,” explained Dr Merad.

The number of these monocytes was significantly reduced following fasting, which researchers say emphasises the link between high-calorie dietary patterns and inflammatory disease outcomes.

“Considering the broad spectrum of diseases that are caused by chronic inflammation and the increasing number of patients affected by these diseases, there is an enormous potential in investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of fasting,” said first author Stefan Jorda, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai.

The study findings have been published in the Cell journal.

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