Dieting Lowers Inflammation
Intriguing new research shows that dieting or fasting lowers levels of a protein involved in the kind of inflammation that underpins diseases such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis (the cause of most deadly heart disease) and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s a potentially huge discovery, because typical Western diets tend to promote inflammation, and the aforementioned diseases are rampant in the developed world.
Essentially, dieting or fasting prompted the release of a protein, which in turn blocked an inflammatory protein involved in a complex cascade of low-level inflammation. This chronic, barely-detectable inflammation is believed to underlie many of the most common diseases that afflict society. Cardiovascular disease, which includes atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke, is the leading cause of death in the United States, for example.
Scientists have long known that overweight and obesity are linked to increased inflammation and a higher risk of inflammation-related diseases. This new finding provides a smoking gun, of sorts, to explain the connection. It might also explain the observation that creatures that cut back drastically on their caloric intake—a practice known as calorie restriction—almost invariably live significantly longer than individuals that eat a “normal” amount of calories.
Some people practice calorie restriction (CR) for this very reason; they hope to prevent disease and extend their lifespans. But, although these folks take pains to consume all the essential nutrients they need to survive, CR is essentially a form of controlled starvation. Obviously, it’s completely impractical—and invariably unpleasant—for most people. Nevertheless, this latest finding underscores the role of diet in health, wellness—and disease. Eat too much, and you’ll encourage inflammation. Slash your caloric intake temporarily, and you’ll produce a natural anti-inflammatory chemical that’s arguably more effective than any aspirin or ibuprofen pill.
Interestingly, intensive exercise also prompts the release of the anti-inflammatory protein, called β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). This also makes sense, because we’ve always known that both exercise and low-calorie diets promote wellness and reduce inflammation. People with osteoarthritis—the common form of “age-related” arthritis that results in stiff, painful joints—can actually get relief by exercising, for example. This seems counterintuitive, since pain in the joints tends to discourage further movement. But movement ends up making arthritis symptoms better—not worse.
Yun-Hee Youm, Kim Y Nguyen, Ryan W Grant, Emily L Goldberg, Monica Bodogai, Dongin Kim, Dominic D'Agostino, Noah Planavsky, Christopher Lupfer, Thirumala D Kanneganti, Seokwon Kang, Tamas L Horvath, Tarek M Fahmy, Peter A Crawford, Arya Biragyn, Emad Alnemri, Vishwa Deep Dixit. The ketone metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome–mediated inflammatory disease. Nature Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nm.3804