Stubborn belly fat stays around during intermittent fasting

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  • Intermittent fasting is a good way to achieve weight loss
  • However, a recent study showed that a certain type of body fat becomes resistant to weight loss during fasting
  • According to the researchers, the fat goes into 'preservation mode'

Intermittent fasting is beneficial for obese individuals looking to lose weight, but the way body fat responds to such diets wasn't fully explored until recently.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney revealed how body fat around the stomach and intestines goes into "preservation mode" during intermittent fasting and, over time, becomes resistant to weight loss. 

Not all body fat is the same

The team of researchers zoomed in on how different types of fat respond to every-other-day fasting – a type of intermittent fasting where meals are skipped on alternate days.

“While most people would think that all fat tissue is the same, in fact, the location makes a big difference,” explained senior author Dr Mark Larance.

“Our data show both visceral and subcutaneous fats undergo dramatic changes during intermittent fasting.”

Visceral fat is the type of fat tissue that surrounds our organs and the stomach, and subcutaneous fat is found just underneath the skin.

Holding on to visceral fat

When you fast, your body burns stored fat which is released in the form of fatty acids to provide energy. However, in the current study, the researchers found that visceral fat becomes resistant to releasing these fatty acids during fasting.

They also noticed that both visceral and subcutaneous can become better at storing energy as fat over time, becoming more efficient after each fasting period in preparation for the next. In other words, this could be due to a history of repeated fasting, signalling the need to preserve especially visceral fat. 

Further research needed

The team used a mouse model to conduct the study and looked at more than 8 500 proteins found in fat deposits that initiate change during intermittent fasting.

“Mouse physiology is similar to humans, but their metabolism is much faster, allowing us to observe changes more rapidly than in human trials, and examine tissues difficult to sample in humans," Dr Larance said.

For the study, the team used highly advanced instruments of the Sydney Mass Spectrometry in the Charles Perkins Centre.

While the researchers emphasised that the results cannot be applied to all types of fasting regimes, it does pave the way for further research on why visceral fat becomes resistant to releasing energy when fasting, and can be used to develop better diets aimed at supporting metabolic health.

Dr Larance concluded: “Now that we've shown 'belly fat' in mice is resistant to this diet, the big question will be to answer why, and how do we best tackle it?” 

Image credit: Pexels

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