Changing your diet too often may do more harm than good
A study conducted on fruit flies showed that switching from a restricted diet to a freer diet caused issues related to overall mortality and reproduction.
The world is trying to get fitter. Fitness influencers, health blogs, diets books and food documentaries are throwing light over the many reasons eating and exercising right is important and how to embrace a healthier lifestyle. While this is an encouraging development and personal health should be a priority, the boom of new approaches often throws caution to the wind. There are no long term studies yet on the effects of how many of the trending diets work - simply not enough time has passed to conduct real-time analysis and there is currently more speculation than fact.
A major study, published in Science Advances last week, studied the effects of suddenly going from a diet of restriction to a regular diet. The investigation was conducted on fruit flies and the results showed that switching from a restricted diet to a freer diet caused issues related to overall mortality and reproduction.
This is concerning since it is contrary to previously held beliefs that dietary restrictions actually increase longevity. Further, diets require a great amount of discipline and often people will break them after a certain amount of time and return to a regular diet. It turns out that this change can have harmful effects so one should be cautious when trying a new diet, especially those involving intermittent fasting. Some suggest maintaining a diet that is not overly ambitious and is sustainable - this may be the most profound understanding of this study.
What did the study show?
Initially, mortality rates decreased while on a low-calorie diet for a day. However, flies that were intermittently fasting for 4 days and were then fed a heavier diet had a 1.6 times higher mortality rate. The bump in mortality was less pronounced if the intermittent fast was broken in two days suggesting that a reversal to a regular diet after a long spell of fasting could have more serious effects. Further, female flies produced fewer eggs on transferring back to a regular diet as well.
Over 66,000 flies across 11 genetic lines were involved in the experiment to account for outliers and confounding factors.
What could explain these findings?
A good deal of previous research suggests that the body shifts to survival mode when deprived of food. This shift causes the body to focus on repair and maintenance while it awaits a more reliable source of food, and has been linked to longevity and better overall health.
This is a long-standing theory, and the current study has challenged it. Given how the flies reacted to food deprivation followed by a rich bounty of nutrients, the researchers suggest that the flies were simply awaiting death since enough food was not available in their environment. It appears that the flies were ill-prepared to adopt a regular diet after a brief period of deprivation, which explains the higher rate of mortality and fewer number of eggs.
The researchers speculate that the survival response — which nudges the body in the direction of repair and maintenance — could be in response to dangers associated with a rich diet. What these ‘dangers’ consist of is currently not known, and the researchers said they need to conduct more studies to expand and explain these findings.
What can we extrapolate from the findings?
The study needs to be replicated before any suggestions can be made. Bear in mind that these findings fly in the face of previously held beliefs, so a lot more data is required to engineer a change in the thinking of the scientific community. This study will make us challenge the assumptions behind the survival impulse, which supports the benefits of dietary restriction currently.
For now, we can find consolation in the age-old wisdom of sticking to a well-balanced diet and one that can be sustained. Making drastic changes suddenly is probably not good for your body, so keep it predictable and follow a routine.
For more information, read our article on Healthy Diets.
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