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How intermittent fasting can increase weight loss

Intermittent fasting, without restricting overall calorie intake, has been found to reduce weight and improve metabolism. A new investigation hunts down the molecular mechanisms behind these physiological benefits.

Fasting intermittently has several health benefits, but why?

Our modern lifestyle, combined with longer waking hours, means that the enforced period of fasting while we sleep has steadily been reduced. This, along with the poor-quality Western diet and more time spent sedentary, has dramatically increased the prevalence of obesity and metabolic disease.

Over recent years, fasting has been shown to impart a number of health benefits.

Many clinicians hope that by modifying aspects of fasting — such as how long to fast for, what to eat between fasts, and when to fast — it may be possible to design methods of combating obesity and metabolic disorders.

The rise of periodic fasting

Intermittent fasting is believed to share many of its health benefits with prolonged fasting. It has, for instance, been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

Other studies have demonstrated that intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity and protects nerve cells from certain types of damage. It may also slow aging and reduce the risk of age-related diseases.

Intermittent fasting without a reduction in calorie intake can be a preventative and therapeutic approach against obesity and metabolic disorders.”

Study co-author Kyoung-Han Kim

Because of these, and other, recent findings, the so-called 5:2 diet — which involves 5 days of normal eating followed by 2 days of fasting — has become popular.

Evidence in favor of intermittently restricting calorie intake is growing, but the mechanisms through which it imparts its benefits are still unclear. Recently, a research team led by Hoon-Ki Sung — of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada — set out to look under the hood of intermittent fasting.

Investigating the molecular changes that might underpin intermittent fasting’s effects, their results are published this week in the journal Cell Research. Of particular interest were the roles of brown and white fat.

The difference between brown and white fat

White fat is essential for storing excess energy and releasing lipids when the need arises. However, it is also associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Brown fat, on the other hand, burns energy and has been suggested as a potential candidate for the treatment of obesity and metabolic diseases.

Recent studies have shown that, under certain circumstances, white fat can be converted into brown (and sometimes beige) fat. This process — referred to as browning — is coming under scrutiny as a potential avenue to reduce obesity.

For the current experiment, the team put mice into two groups: an intermittent fasting group and a control group. The former group was given no food for 1 day and was then fed for the next 2 days. The latter group was fed daily. The study continued for 16 weeks.

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