The health benefits of fasting have been the subject of much hype in recent years. More and more people now fast, not just for religious purposes but also to lose weight and boost metabolism.
Restricting food intake may increase metabolic activity more than researchers used to believe, studies suggest, and the practice may even help fight aging.
Fasting may also improve gut health, according to other research, and strengthen circadian rhythms, thus boosting overall health.
New research adds to this body of evidence by zooming in on a specific type of fasting and its benefits for obesity-related conditions.
Dr. Ayse Leyla Mindikoglu, who is an associate professor of medicine and surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, and her colleagues used the Islamic spiritual practice of Ramadan to study the benefits of fasting from dawn to sunset.
The researchers found that practicing this type of fasting for 30 days raised the levels of certain proteins that can improve insulin resistance and stave off the adverse effects of a diet rich in fats and sugar.
Dr. Mindikoglu and team presented their findings at the Digestive Disease Week, a conference that took place recently in San Diego, CA.
‘Timing and duration between meals’ is key
Dr. Mindikoglu and colleagues studied 14 people who were healthy at baseline and who fasted for 15 hours each day from dawn to sunset as part of Ramadan.
While fasting, the participants did not consume any food or drink. Before the start of the fast, the researchers took blood samples from the participants. The scientists also tested the participants’ blood after 4 weeks of fasting and 1 week after fasting ended.
The blood samples revealed higher levels of proteins called tropomyosin (TPM) 1, 3, and 4. TPM is “best known for its role in the regulation of contraction of skeletal muscle and the heart.”
However, TPM is also key for maintaining the health of cells that are important to insulin resistance and repairing them if they sustain damage.
TPM3, specifically, plays an important role in improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Better insulin sensitivity means better blood sugar control.
The current study found that the levels of TPM1, 3, and 4 “gene protein products” increased considerably between the baseline and 1 week after fasting had ended.
The study’s lead author comments on the findings, saying: “Feeding and fasting can significantly impact how the body makes and uses proteins that are critical to decreasing insulin resistance and maintaining a healthy body weight.”
“Therefore, the timing of and duration between meals could be important factors to consider for people struggling with obesity-related conditions.”
“According to World Health Organization data, obesity affects over 650 million people worldwide, placing them at risk for any number of health conditions,” continues Dr. Mindikoglu.
“We are in the process of expanding our research to include individuals with metabolic syndrome and [nonalcoholic fatty liver disease] to determine whether the results are consistent with those of the healthy individuals,” notes the researcher.
“Based on our initial research, we believe that dawn-to-sunset fasting may provide a cost-effective intervention for those struggling with obesity-related conditions.”
Dr. Ayse Leyla Mindikoglu