Skipping breakfast but also lunch or dinner is not healthy. In fact, this practice, often used to lose body weight and act on the metabolism, actually compromises the immune system, increasing inflammation and weakening our natural defenses against infections, tumors and cardiovascular diseases. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the Immunity magazine by an American team from the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai, New York (Janssen et al, Immunity, Feb 2023).
Fasting, the trend of the moment
Magazines, articles and books increasingly propose the importance of fasting. Whether it's intermittent fasting or one-day fasting, abstaining from food for a limited time seems to be a valid aid in counteracting overweight and obesity and speeding up the metabolism. However, this practice isn't for everyone, since it doesn't always give the desired results, and it's not healthy. In fact, today we will see what happens in the body when you skip breakfast and when fasting continues for 24 hours.
Skipping breakfast and fasting weaken the immune system, the study
The study took place in the laboratory on a population of mice. Part of the mice was given breakfast immediately after waking up while the other part was fasted. Upon awakening, four hours later and eight hours later the mice were subjected to blood draws. What has emerged is that monocytes undergo an alteration in case of fasting. Monocytes are a type of white blood cell that is produced in the bone marrow and then released into the bloodstream, where they travel throughout the body fighting infections, cardiovascular diseases and cellular degeneration. Upon awakening all the mice had the same number of monocytes, but after 4 hours the monocytes in the mice that skipped breakfast had almost completely disappeared, only 10% remained, after 8 hours this number had further reduced. However, the number of monocytes in the breakfast group remained unchanged. As the scientists observed, in the mice that skipped breakfast, most of the monocytes had returned to the bone marrow, where they had effectively hibernated. At the same time, the production of the new monocytes also decreased. The scientists continued to fast the mice for 24 hours and then reintroduced the feeding. The researchers were thus able to observe that, once the food was eaten, the white blood cells that had hibernated in the bone marrow returned to circulation. However, this stasis had created an alteration in their functionality. These altered monocytes, in fact, increased inflammation, thus making the body less able to counteract infections.
Explanation and conclusions
What has been observed can be traced back to a response of the nervous system to the state of fasting. During fasting, in fact, a response is activated in the brain, which stimulates the sense of hunger and irritability. Simultaneously, this signal instructs the monocytes to leave the bloodstream and return to the marrow, only to return in blood as soon as food has been reintroduced. Therefore, the explanation is in a connection between the nervous and immune systems that should not be overlooked when you want to start a fasting practice. As mentioned, fasting limited in time is sometimes recommended for weight loss and, in fact, in some cases and under the supervision of the doctor, this practice can be effective in this sense. However, this is not always the case and we now know that we can have important effects on the immune system, which can weaken. It therefore seems a good choice to preserve health to always follow a healthy and varied diet, without deprivation and without skipping breakfast or other meals, favoring unrefined but wholemeal foods, legumes, fruit and vegetables, and maintaining an active lifestyle.