Intermittent Fasting and Liver Health: Exploring the Connection
Did you know that intermittent fasting can improve your liver health? In this article, we will delve into the connection between intermittent fasting and liver health, understand the benefits of intermittent fasting on the liver, and present our conclusions based on scientific facts.
Intermittent Fasting and Health Benefits
For the uninitiated, intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of fasting and eating. This abstinence period is known as the fasting window. Some people practice it daily by staying away from calories for several hours each day, while others do not eat anything for a couple of days or more each week. After the fast is over, you are supposed to consume your daily requirement of calories in what is known as the feeding window.
Owing to its popularity, multiple intermittent fasting schedules have been devised. The most popular ones are 16/8, where you fast for 16 hours and eat in the remaining eight-hour window; the 5/2 approach, where you eat normally for five days a week and limit calorie intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days; and One Meal A Day fasting, where you fast for the entire day, and only have one meal at the end of the day.
There are other, more demanding intermittent fasting plans, too. If you are a hardened dieter, you could try a 3-day fast or even a monk fast, where you fast for 36 hours.
Based on the schedule you follow, there are many amazing benefits that you can accrue from intermittent fasting. Some of them include weight loss, reduction in insulin resistance, possible cancer prevention (though not yet proven), improvement in heart health, brain health improvement and prevention of neuro-diseases like Alzheimer’s, anti-aging effects, and reduction in chronic inflammation. Of all the benefits of intermittent fasting, the most sought-after is weight loss. Many people who have given up on traditional dieting find new hope in intermittent fasting. It is recommended that they start with a light fasting schedule, possibly 12/12, and gradually work toward more demanding IF routines like OMAD or Alternate Day Fasting.
Liver’s Role in the Body
The liver is the body’s largest solid internal organ and performs several crucial functions. It is responsible for processing nutrients from food, producing bile to help with digestion, playing an important role in regulating blood sugar levels in the body, and removing waste and toxins from the blood. It is also responsible for medication breakdown and storing minerals and vitamins in the body. If the liver does not function optimally, it can lead to health issues like fatty liver, cirrhosis, and hepatitis.
Relation Between Fatty Liver and Cellular Mitochondria
Much research has been done on the potential benefits of intermittent fasting on animal health and mitochondrial functioning. Mitochondria are cellular components that are responsible for the metabolism of energy. Before moving into this topic, it is important to note that most studies on IF and mitochondria have been done on animals. Hence, no definitive claims can be made that it will be observable in humans too.
Scientists believe that improper mitochondrial functioning plays a huge role in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This theory is based on the fact that the mitochondria are responsible for the metabolism of fatty acids. NAFLD is partly caused by improper fat metabolism, where the fat ends up in the liver.
Intermittent Fasting and Fatty Liver
A systematic review and meta-analysis done in 2021, published in Frontiers of Nutrition, discovered that intermittent fasting could reduce liver enzymes in people with fatty liver disease. In this meta-analysis, most of the studies were conducted on participants observing Ramadan fasting, a close replication of the 16/8 fasting regime, where you fast for 16 hours and eat your food in the remaining eight-hour window.
Another 2021 systemic review and meta-analysis published in Diabetes Research And Clinical Practice confirmed the positive relationship between Ramadan fasting and decreased liver enzyme levels. Again, there was a 2019 randomized controlled trial by Scientific Reports that found that alternate-day fasting (with participants following 18/6 fasting every other day and eating 70% of usual food intake on the fasting days) reduced the enzyme levels in the liver, and also improved some markers of liver scarring and liver fat accumulation.
In all the above studies, we cannot say with certainty that the results achieved by following the fasting protocols were independent of the weight loss that participants experienced. It has only been suggested (not proven yet) that intermittent fasting can improve the liver’s health independent of calorie restriction/weight loss because IF changes how our bodies utilize energy, favoring fat metabolism.
These results are encouraging, and you can certainly try intermittent fasting to beat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, provided you also consider other things like diet optimization, physical activity, and strategic supplementation.
Intermittent Fasting, Liver Health, and Diabetes Prevention
In 2020, Australian researchers used modern analytical tools to try and understand how intermittent fasting works and its association with the liver to help prevent diseases. A study on mice found that 12 hours of daily intermittent fasting for 30 days reduced liver mass significantly and improved blood glucose levels. By studying the effect of proteins on mice’s liver, which can be suitable human biological models, scientists have come to a better conclusion about how fasting can reprogram liver proteins. The researchers found that the HNF4 protein is responsible for the regulation of a large number of proteins and that it plays a role in intermittent fasting.
Dr. Larance, who headed the research, 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.”
During the study, it was also discovered that alternate-day fasting was responsible for changing the metabolism of fatty acids in the liver.
Intermittent fasting has numerous benefits, including improved liver health. While the studies conducted so far are encouraging, more research is needed to make definitive claims about the benefits of intermittent fasting on liver health. However, if you are suffering from fatty liver disease, intermittent fasting may be worth a try, provided you also consider other things like diet optimization, physical activity, and strategic supplementation.