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The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting: Improved Immunity and Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting could enhance the effectiveness of immune cells in fighting pathogens and cancers

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In recent years, intermittent fasting has gained popularity due to its ability to promote weight loss by depriving the body of glucose, which leads to the breakdown of fat and the production of an alternative fuel source called ketones. It turns out that intermittent fasting may also have a positive effect on immunity and disease prevention. Studies conducted on mice have shown that immune cells become more efficient at fighting infections and cancer when they utilize ketones as an energy source.

Traditionally, it was believed that cells primarily rely on glucose for energy. However, a research team led by Russell Jones at the Van Andel Institute in Michigan discovered that certain immune cells, known as T cells, do not derive much energy from glucose.

Curiosity led the researchers to investigate what alternative energy source these T cells were using. They analyzed data from three separate studies that genetically analyzed T cells responding to infections and tumors. The findings revealed that effective T cells, which are capable of fighting off diseases, had more activity in genes associated with breaking down ketones. This indicated that these cells were utilizing ketones as an energy source while combating diseases.

To further test their hypothesis, the team genetically modified three mice so that they were unable to break down ketones, and compared their response to infection with a group of normal mice. The results showed that the normal mice had 50 percent more T cells producing cytokines, which are substances that kill off pathogens, compared to the genetically modified mice. Additionally, the normal mice were able to produce more cytokines per T cell. Simply put, the ability to break down ketones enhanced the effectiveness of T cells in fighting infections. The researchers also found that mice unable to break down ketones had larger tumors compared to the mice that could.

These findings suggest that immune cells are more effective at combating diseases when they utilize ketones rather than glucose as fuel. They also shed light on previous research that demonstrates improved immune function in mice through fasting for 12 or more hours daily, according to Satchidananda Panda at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.

Moreover, these results can help us understand how dietary interventions that boost ketone production, like intermittent fasting, can impact our ability to fight off infections and cancer. However, Jones warns that not all ketone-producing diets have the same effects. For example, the low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet may impair immunity due to high levels of fat that can suppress immune cells.


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