A study of mice, posted in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, led researchers, including members of Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, to the possible conclusion that skipping meals triggers a series of metabolic missteps that can result in abdominal weight gain.
“In the study, mice that ate all of their food as a single meal and fasted the rest of the day developed insulin resistance in their livers – which scientists consider a telltale sign of prediabetes. When the liver doesn’t respond to insulin signals telling it to stop producing glucose, that extra sugar in the blood is stored as fat.”
The insulin resistant mice were first put on a calorie- restricted diet and lost weight compared to control mice that had unlimited access to food. The calorie-restricted diet mice regained weight as more food was added back to their diet, catching up to the control mice at the end of the study.
However, the fat around their abdomen—the equivalent to human belly fat – weighed more in the mice that had the restricted diet than in the control mice who were free to eat all day long.
“This does support the notion that small meals throughout the day can be helpful for weight loss, though that may not be practical for many people,” said Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “But you definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss.”
Belury and fellow researchers were able to correlate their findings to many people who skipped meals – based on previous work — in the mice on the calorie-restricted diets. These mice, for three days, ate half the calories that were eaten daily by the control mice. Food was added daily so that by day six the mice received the same quantity of food.
The mice on the calorie-restricted diets developed gorging behavior that continued throughout the study, meaning they finished their amount of food in about four hours and then ended up fasting for the next 20 hours.
“With the mice, this is basically bingeing and then fasting,” Belury said. “People don’t necessarily do that over a 24-hour period, but some people do eat just one large meal a day.”
“The gorging and fasting in these mice affected a host of metabolic measures that the researchers attributed to a spike and then severe drop in insulin production. In mice that gorged and then fasted, the researchers saw elevations in inflammation, higher activation of genes that promote storage of fatty molecules and plumper fat cells – especially in the abdominal area – compared to the mice that nibbled all day.”
The researchers used a refined technique to check for insulin resistance assessing glucose production. The liver puts out glucose when it receives messages that insulin levels are low, as when people sleep the liver supplies glucose to the brain. However, the production of glucose stops after eating a meal. The pancreas then releases insulin and the insulin binds to cell receptors on the cell pushing the glucose that is in the bloodstream, through facilitated diffusion (a passive process ) or actively transporting (requiring energy) the glucose, into the cells for energy absorption.
Belury et al. found glucose remained in the blood of mice that gorged and fasted. This meant that the liver was ignoring the insulin message.
“Under conditions when the liver is not stimulated by insulin, increased glucose output from the liver means the liver isn’t responding to signals telling it to shut down glucose production,” Belury said. “These mice don’t have type 2 diabetes yet, but they’re not responding to insulin anymore and that state of insulin resistance is referred to as prediabetes.”
Gaining abdominal fat, white fat tissue, which stores energy, also increases the risk of insulin resistance.
“Even though the gorging and fasting mice had about the same body weights as control mice, their adipose (fat) depots (were heavier. If you’re pumping out more sugar into the blood, adipose is happy to pick up glucose and store it. That makes for a happy fat cell – but it’s not the one you want to have. We want to shrink these cells to reduce fat tissue,” Belury said.
Short-term food restriction followed by controlled refeeding promotes gorging behavior, enhances fat deposition, and diminishes insulin sensitivity in mice, Kara L. Kliewer, et al., The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.01.010, published online 14 March 2015, abstract.
The Ohio State University news release, accessed 21 May 2015.
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