Intermittent fasting helps prevent disease, research finds

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Intermittent fasting can have an impact on fat metabolism, changing liver enzymes and helping to prevent chronic disease, according to new research published in the journal Cell Reports.  

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia used a new analytical tool to understand how intermittent fasting works on the liver to help prevent disease. The findings will help medical scientists working in cancer, cardiovascular, and diabetes research develop new interventions to lower disease risk and discover the optimum intervals for fasting, the researchers said.

In experiments with mice, researchers led by Mark Larance, PhD, at the University of Sydney identified how every-other-day fasting affected proteins in the liver, showing impact on fatty acid metabolism and the role played by a master regulator protein that controls many biological pathways in the liver and other organs.

The researchers found that the HNF4-(alpha) protein, which regulates many liver genes, plays a previously unknown role during intermittent fasting. The researchers also found that every-other-day-fasting, where no food was consumed on alternate days, changed the metabolism of fatty acids in the liver, knowledge that could be applied to improvements in glucose tolerance and the regulation of diabetes.

"What's really exciting is that this new knowledge about the role of HNF4-(alpha) means it could be possible to mimic some of the effects of intermittent fasting through the development of liver-specific HNF4-(alpha) regulators," said Larance in a statement.

A technique known as multi-omics, which considers multiple data sets such as the total collection of proteins and genes, was used in the study, allowing for the integration of large amounts of information to discover new associations within biological systems. The multi-omics data was obtained at Sydney Mass Spectrometry, part of the University of Sydney.

Larance said the information can now be used in future studies to determine optimum fasting periods to regulate protein response in the liver.

"Last year we published research into the impact of every-other-day-fasting on humans,” he said in a statement. “Using these mouse data, we can now build up improved models of fasting for better human health."