Monday, February 4, 2008

How does fasting work?

I've posted a lot on Intermittent Fasting in the past. You may be interested in this article which looks at a particular mechanism by which fasting affects the metabolism. I do not pretend to understand all of this, but the conclusion is that fasting downregulates the HPT axis, which is assumed to be an energy-saving mechanism, allowing us to survive through famine and times of food shortage. As I said - I don't know how we apply all this, but it is interesting to think through some of the hormonal changes prompted by fasting. Exercise, all comes down to hormones and gene expression.


I suppose what is also going through my head is that the HPT axis affected by stress - these hormones go up when you are stressed - fight or flight stuff. If fasting sends them the otehr way, I wonder if this is associated with some of the psychological effects - like mental clarity - that are reported with fasting?

Fasting-Induced Changes in the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis.

Fasting induces profound changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. The alterations observed in humans and rodents are similar in many ways, although they may be more pronounced and more acute in rodents. The molecular mechanisms underlying the resetting of HPT axis regulation in the framework of caloric deprivation are still incompletely understood. Fascinating studies in rats and mice have shown a dramatic downregulation of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) gene expression in hypophysiotropic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) neurons during fasting. Direct and indirect effects of decreased serum leptin, as well as effects of increased local triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations, in the hypothalamus during food deprivation contribute to the decreased activity of TRH neurons in the PVN. However, the relative contributions of these complex determinants remain to be defined in more detail. Pituitary thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) beta mRNA expression decreases during fasting, and this may be relatively independent of leptin and/or TRH, since leptin administration in this setting does not fully restore pituitary TSH expression, while it does restore TRH expression in the PVN. There may be a role for pituitary peptides, such as neuromedin B, in altered TSH gene expression during fasting. The observed decrease in serum thyroid hormone concentrations results to some extent from diminished thyroidal secretion of thyroid hormones, especially in rodents. Decreased thyroxine (T4) and T3 contribute to the downregulation of T3-responsive genes such as liver D1. The overall result of these complex HPT axis changes in various tissues during fasting is downregulation of the HPT axis, which is assumed to represent an energy-saving mechanism, instrumental in times of food shortage.


Richard Nikoley said...


I have no idea what this means, but for about the last six years or so I've been on a low dose of thyroid medication, prescribed after tests of TSH were too low, so hypothyroidism.

This was about the time I began putting on weight.

The first couple of fasts didn't produce much weight loss, but since I stopped the thyroid meds about a months ago, with no apparent ill effects, the weight has been falling off with each fast.

Chris said...

Hey Richard.

Interesting - your experience with thyroid. I wonder if the fasting has stabilized things somehow?

I do not understand this article - but it looked interesting! And as I said the hormonal stuff chimes with some other things I've been reading.

Glad you found hyperlipid by the way - that is a great blog!

Martin Berkhan said...

Chris, you can't really apply this study to humans or any of the popular IF regimens out there. Rodent metabolism is 6-7 times faster than ours and these conclusions would equal fasting for days on end for humans.