Fasting can be an effective way to start a diet

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In a new study from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, researchers examined the effect a change of diet has on people with metabolic syndrome.

They found switching to a healthy diet has a positive effect on blood pressure. If the diet is preceded by a fast, this effect is intensified.

One in four Germans suffers from metabolic syndrome.

Several of four diseases of affluence occur at the same time in this ‘deadly quartet’: obesity, high blood pressure, lipid metabolism disorder and diabetes mellitus.

Each of these is a risk factor for severe cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.

Treatment aims to help patients lose weight and normalise their lipid and carbohydrate metabolism and blood pressure.

In addition to exercise, doctors prescribe a low-calorie and healthy diet. Medication is often also required. However, it is not fully clear what effects nutrition has on the microbiome, immune system and health.

In the study, the team recruited 71 volunteers with metabolic syndrome and raised systolic blood pressure. The researchers divided them into two groups at random.

Both groups followed the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet for three months, which is designed to combat high blood pressure.

This Mediterranean-style diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products, nuts and pulses, fish and lean white meat. One of the two groups did not consume any solid food at all for five days before starting the DASH diet.

The scientists observed how the immune cells of the volunteers changed when they altered their diet.

They found the innate immune system remains stable during the fast, whereas the adaptive immune system shuts down.

The researchers used stool samples to examine the effects of the fast on the gut microbiome. Gut bacteria work in close contact with the immune system.

Some strains of bacteria metabolize dietary fiber into anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids that benefit the immune system. The composition of the gut bacteria ecosystem changes drastically during fasting.

Health-promoting bacteria that help to reduce blood pressure multiply. Some of these changes remain even after the resumption of food intake.

The team found body mass index, blood pressure and the need for antihypertensive medication remained lower in the long term among volunteers who started the healthy diet with a five-day fast.

Blood pressure remains lower in the long term — even three months after fasting.

The team says if a high-fiber, low-fat diet fails to deliver results, it is possible that there are insufficient gut bacteria in the gut microbiome that metabolize fiber into protective fatty acids.

Those who have this problem often feel that it is not worth the effort and go back to their old habits. It is therefore a good idea to combine a diet with a fast.

If you care about diet and your health, please read studies about this popular weight loss diet linked to higher heart disease risk and findings of this diet could help reduce high blood pressure in older people.

For more information about diets and wellness, please see recent studies about this diet cuts non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by half and results showing that this diet may help reduce type 2 diabetes.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications. One author of the study is Dr Sofia Forslund.

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