Intermittent fasting (IF) is an effective dietary intervention to lose weight, treat diseases and improve health but little is known about the exact bio-mechanics of the practice. For the first time, Australian biochemists have successfully demonstrated the underlying biochemistry of intermittent fasting and its effects on metabolic functions, disease prevention and longevity.
IF, also known as intermittent energy restriction (IER), is a time-restricted eating pattern that involves a cycle of fasting (16h) and eating (8h). This pattern is called the Fed-Fast Cycle.
The Fed-Fast Cycle was initially introduced to reduce risk and manage certain diet-induced diseased such as obesity and eating disorders but soon it became a hit among fitness experts, dieters and yogis. IF reduces weight, blood glucose, cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity.
Dr. Mark Larance, the lead author of the study and research fellow at the University of Sydney, investigated the effects of IF on liver profile and found the practice to reprogram liver proteins that regulate several metabolic pathways. He and his team took the research a bit further to better understand the role of a specific protein called hepatocyte nuclear factor 4-alpha, or HNF-4α.
Intermittent Fasting and Its Impact on Liver Proteins
The team employed state-of-the-art tools to study the impact of IF on HNF-4α. They used multi-Omics, a technique that allows integration of a large amount of data at once. With the help of multi-Omics, the scientists were able to run hundreds of samples through a mass spectrometer and collect biological information of genes, enzymes and proteins, particularly HNF-4α, the protein in question.
This protein regulates several liver genes and its number increases in inflammation. In diabetes and other metabolic diseases, there is a low-degree inflammation in the body, so IF-induced regulation of HNF-4α can be particularly beneficial in such people.
Dr. Larance and the team noted that IF inhibits the HNF-4α protein and changes fatty acid metabolism in the liver, leading to improved glucose tolerance.
Dr. Larance says:
For the first time, we showed that HNF4-(alpha) is inhibited during intermittent fasting. This has downstream consequences, such as lowering the abundance of blood proteins in inflammation or affecting bile synthesis. This helps explain some of the previously known facts about intermittent fasting.
Where is the Research Leading to?
Dr. Larance is excited at the findings. Not only does he recommend IF in diabetic and healthy population to reduce risk of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, he is also positive that the new knowledge can open doors for a novel drug therapy that can target, module or inhibit HNF-4α.
While talking to Health Units, Dr Larance said:
Our team will most likely extend the study dynamics and use study information to determine optimum fasting periods to naturally lower HNF-4α levels in the body.
A Little about Intermittent Fasting Methods
There is more than one method of practicing IF, all of which split a day between eating and fasting:
- The 16/8 Method – it involves fasting for 16 hours straight and restricting the eating window to 8 hours every day, i.e., 12 PM–8 PM.
- The 5:2 Diet – it involves eating normally for five days and then restricting your calorie intake to 500-600 on the other two days.
- Eat-Stop-Eat – it involves a 24-hour intermittent fasting schedule once or twice a week. This method can be followed by eating dinner and fasting until dinner the next day.
All methods are equally effective to stimulate weight loss but most people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest and most feasible. It is also the most popular method.