According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens by Bruce Vallance and colleagues at the University of British Columbia, Canada, fasting before and during exposure to Salmonella enterica bacteria protects mice from developing a full-blown infection, in part due to changes in the animals’ gut microbiomes.
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When people or animals become ill with an infection, they frequently experience a loss of appetite. However, it is still debatable whether fasting protects the host from infection or increases the host’s susceptibility to infections. According to the findings of the new study, mice were fasted for 48 hours prior to and during oral infection with the bacteria Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, which is a common cause of foodborne illness in humans.
The signs of bacterial infection in mice that were fasted were significantly reduced when compared to mice that were fed, with intestinal tissue damage and inflammation nearly eliminated. Salmonella numbers and invasion into intestinal walls increased dramatically when fasted animals were re-fed for a day after their fast, despite the fact that associated inflammation was still at a lower level than in normal conditions.
When mice were exposed to Salmonella intravenously rather than orally, the results were different, and analyses of the mice’s microbiomes revealed significant changes associated with fasting and protection against infection, respectively.
More importantly, the researchers found that fasting did not completely protect germ-free mice — mice that have been bred to lack a normal microbiome — from Salmonella infection, indicating that some of the protection may have been due to the effects of fasting on the microbiome. Experiments conducted with the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni confirmed that the effect of fasting was not limited to Salmonella, with similar results being observed in both strains of bacteria.
“These data suggest that therapeutic fasting or calorie restriction has the potential to beneficially modulate infectious and potentially non-infectious gastrointestinal diseases,” the researchers conclude.
The researchers add, “Our research highlights the important role that food plays in regulating interactions between the host, enteric pathogens and the gut microbiome. When food is limited, the microbiome appears to sequester the nutrients that remain, preventing pathogens from acquiring the energy they need to infect the host. While more research is needed, fasting or otherwise adjusting food intake could be exploited therapeutically to modulate infectious diseases in the future.”
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